Dr. Blanca Enriquez, Director of the Office of Head Start
The new school year is beginning, and we also have a new beginning for Head Start that will be felt in programs across the country. This time of year, children’s emotions are written on their faces for all to see. We all can see their excitement as they go to Head Start – some attending for the very first time. Parents are excited (and a little nervous) for their kids. They are also excited to learn and grow themselves through the opportunities and comprehensive services Head Start provides. Teachers, home visitors, bus drivers, directors, family service workers, custodians and the rest of the Head Start team – everyone is excited for the new school year to begin.
In 1985, I too became excited about the value and potential of early education as I began my career in Head Start. It was in the bilingual-bicultural community of El Paso, Texas that I accepted the challenge of implementing the many, many performance standards that form the foundation for Head Start services to children and families.
Now in 2016, I am more excited than ever as we at the Office of Head Start unveil the most complete revision and reorganization of the Head Start Program Performance Standards since the program began in 1965. These new standards replace those 1,400 prescriptive and fragmented requirements with a much clearer set of standards. They now focus more on the end goal of excellence, while allowing each grantee to design their own system that is customized to their community’s needs, strengths, and resources. This represents a paradigm shift for programs from being told what to do, to being given a common foundation to build upon with their own knowledge and experience. This will allow each program to approach improving child and family outcomes in a way that is best for their community.
The new Head Start Program Performance Standards also:
- Reflect best practice and latest research on what works in early education to foster healthy child development and school readiness
- Increase the length of the school day and school year to maximize child outcomes
- Raise educational standards, curriculum requirements, child assessment, and teacher professional development
- Increase the quality of comprehensive services for children and families
- Affirm the role of parents in leadership roles and strengthen parent engagement services
These new standards continue to solidify Head Start as a leader in early childhood development and learning. Collectively, they allow for the development of innovative program models as grantees strategize to be the highest performing agencies possible.
Head Start is truly a community, from the children and parents to everyone who works for the program. To quote one Head Start Director, “I don’t just serve children, I build resilient families and a stronger community…my families…and my community. I feel like the matriarch of an ever-expanding family that I am so incredibly proud of every single day!”
I sincerely hope that these new standards bring the same excitement and promise to our grantees as the programs bring to the children and families they serve. As the new school year begins, everyone in the Head Start world – children, parents, staff, and us at Headquarters – is looking forward to the new and exciting opportunities for learning and growth as we work together to implement these standards.