WASHINGTON, DC – This upcoming school year, District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) will implement an expanded approach to early childhood programming called the Head Start (HS) School-Wide Model, in all 68 Title I schools. By blending local and federal dollars this innovative model will dramatically improve the quality and breadth of services for 3- and 4-year-olds, helping to ensure that DCPS’ youngest learners receive the supports they need to learn and thrive in kindergarten and beyond.
“This is important news for our children and families, many of who are experiencing DC public schools for the first time,” said Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. “Improving early childhood education has been a cornerstone of this administration –because we know the future success of our students depends in large part on the direction and support they receive at the beginning during these formative years.”
HEAD START SCHOOL-WIDE MODEL
When the new school year starts on August 23, all locally funded pre-K and Head Start classrooms in DCPS’ Title I elementary schools will merge. With the Head Start School-wide model, additional children will benefit from the comprehensive services that meet the requirements of the Head Start Performance Standards. This means that in addition to a strong academic program, they will benefit from health and developmental screenings, nutritional meals and snacks and family support inside and outside of the classroom.
Research has shown that a comprehensive early learning approach gives children a significant boost as they enter school. But until now, many DCPS students who met the income eligibility requirements for Head Start, were not enrolled in the program and did not receive these benefits. DCPS made the decision to maximize local funds by combining them with an $11 million, federal grant from Head Start in order to extend the best aspects of Head Start and pre-K to all children in Title I schools.
“In this challenging economic climate, we made the decision to prioritize early childhood and make a bold investment in the future of the District,” stated Chancellor Michelle Rhee. “This has been a system-wide effort –from our teachers who have been preparing all summer and will continue with professional development during the school year –to the volunteers who spent last weekend canvassing door-to-door with critical information for parents.”
HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
Today, at Savoy Elementary in Ward 8, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius joined Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee to welcome students and families at the school’s early childhood orientation. As one example of the many orientations happening across the District this week, Savoy set out to provide an intimate opportunity for parents, teachers and school administrators to engage with incoming families.
“Combining the best of Head Start and public pre-K programs, while making sure that vital Head Start funds support children who are eligible for that program, holds a lot of promise for raising the quality bar in early education programs across the country,” said Secretary Sebelius. “We’re pleased to have DC’s program so close to home, and we will be evaluating this program closely. We hope we’ll have a model in the nation’s capital for programs across the country to improve.”
In July, the Department of Health and Human Services provided DCPS with a $1 million improvement grant to enable the school system’s transition to the Head Start school-wide model.
Funds helped to enhance physical learning environments in Title I schools with new supplies and furnishings and support the launch of a new curriculum pilot called Tools of the Mind, which aligns to DCPS kindergarten readiness standards and meets Head Start standards. The funds also enabled DCPS to conduct stakeholder training for central and school-based early childhood staff. Additionally, during the school year as part of its regular monitoring practices, HHS will work with DCPS to build in accountability measures with a focus on evaluating the effectiveness of the new model.
DCPS’ will also use its personnel assessment system IMPACT along with class and representative samples to track student growth with ongoing observational tools designed to pinpoint where children are in their development and learning.