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Head Start 


What Program Leaders Need to Know

Effective data use can enable Head Start management teams to move from merely reacting to proactively anticipating and solving problems.

Leveraging Data in Program Management

Effective data use can enable Head Start management teams to move from merely reacting to proactively anticipating and solving problems.

Unfortunately, however, Head Start managers have often not been trained in effective data practices. They might hold a masters degree in child development or social work, but weren’t exposed to data use in management settings. The Office of Head Start is encouraging Head Start management to step up their use of data. This entails acquiring better tools and developing systems for incorporating data flows into decision making.
As data tools become more intuitive and easier to use, Head Start content area managers are directly accessing data that in the past required an intermediary such as a data manager to produce reports.  

Early Intel and CCR Analytics launched the Q.I. Network to help bring better tools, strategies and practices to Head Start management.

How Head Start Programs Use Data Coaches

How Head Start Programs Use Data Coaches

As Head Start programs seek to strengthen their data use, they are beginning to use a new kind of resource: coaches. Data coaches started appearing in K-12 school districts over a decade ago. They help faculty glean insights from the mass of information they collect....

Read on to explore ways to step up your data practices and incorporate improvement tools into  your Head Start management systems, in the following areas:


The Office of Head Start requires programs to conduct an annual self-assessment. Beyond fulfilling this federal requirement, Head Start self-assessments provide an opportunity to reflect on data collection and yield new insights to improve team and individual performance. It’s a powerful tool for growth so that your program can plan for the coming year and address areas of need.

Questions lie at the heart of self-assessment. The question you choose to explore will inform what data you need to gather or if you can pull from existing data. For instance, if you were asking a question about staff wellbeing, you might look at staff feedback or conduct empathy interviews with staff. Other areas to explore might be family engagement or policies around equity and inclusion.

Understanding how to gather and analyze data is a key part of the self-assessment process. Data coaches can help Head Start management teams build confidence working with data and planning for self-assessment. As teams gain quality improvement tools and knowledge, they can go deeper in self-assessment and better serve their communities.

Another resource for self-assessment is Head Start PIR data. Early Intel and CCR Analytics produce an interactive dashboard called PIR Spotlight of national PIR data that enables programs to easily compare themselves to others in their state, federal region, or nationwide, using PIR data.

The dashboards can be used to assess teacher turnover, numbers of homeless children served, or hundreds of other performance metrics. The tool is accompanied by data coaching sessions to facilitate the dialogue and analysis. Details are available at (link TBA).

Staff Recruitment and Retention

Many Head Start management teams struggle with staff recruitment and retention, and limited resources to increase salaries. A critical part of staff retention is understanding what motivates staff, how to create an attractive workplace culture, and the most meaningful types of reward and recognition. These aren’t always obvious.

Data and CQI Coaches can be a resource in the process of retaining and recruiting staff. One very effective tool is empathy interviews, where an interview probes in an open ended fashion for greater understanding. This and other CQI tools enable managers to better understand the dynamics that strengthen staff retention.

Another CQI tool that facilitates effective recruitment is journey mapping. By visualizing all the steps in a hiring process from the perspective of the candidate, Head Start management teams can remove obstacles that might have inadvertently deterred otherwise qualified candidates.

Growing the senior leadership team’s skills through coaching can also help foster a culture where staff want to be and where they have the ability to grow in their role. The Q.I. Network regularly holds exemplar sessions that feature effective staff recruitment and retention practices. 

When Head Start management teams are specifically seeking to hire for data managers or quality leads, they should also consider fractional staffing. Early Intel can facilitate part-time, remote placements of screened, expert staff that can fill a gap and help the program to build their internal capacity.

Child Enrollment

Child Enrollment

The Office of Head Start prioritizes enrolling families experiencing extreme poverty and its exacerbating challenges, including homelessness and foster children. 

To understand how your program is performing in these areas, consider how you benchmark against other programs in your state, region or across programs of similar size. (Link to PIR Analytics page)
The quality of child recruitment varies significantly across programs, and what worked a few years ago may no longer work today. This is why self-assessment and CQI are so critical. 

A CQI coach can be a great thought partner in mapping your child enrollment process and identifying the gaps and obstacles that may prevent you from fully enrolling these important groups of children and families.

Enrollment is tied to staffing and recruitment because vacancies on the teaching staff are often what prevents programs from opening additional sites or classrooms to meet demand. In some states, Head Start programs compete with universal pre-K and transitional kindergarten, so that brings its own set of challenges.

Dr. Maritza Lozano, Early Intel’s CQI Training Lead, discusses how a program might use CQI tools to boost enrollment.

Quality improvement coaching enables Head Start management teams to explore strategies for expediting and streamlining the enrollment process, converting Head Start slots to Early Head Start slots, and other strategies around enrollment. Teams might look at the role of community partnerships, marketing, family relationships, and other areas related to enrollment.
One program that’s part of the Q.I. Network discovered through empathy interviews that its enrollment paperwork was too cumbersome for many prospective families. Approaching enrollment as an improvement project, they streamlined and digitized paperwork. They also combined the health and eligibility interviews. The result? Enrollment in as few as 2-30 days compared to 60 days under the previous enrollment system.

Community Assessment

Community Assessment

Annual Head Start community assessments are critical to program planning and building trust with partners in the community. These are large-scale projects, so many Head Start management teams work with outside consultants and spend months on planning. 

Ideally, an energetic Planning Committee helps with pre and post assessment activities. It’s not enough to collect information on community needs. Programs need to show that they are responsive to what they’re learning and are adapting their services accordingly. 

Intersectionality–that is, how multiple identities impact a person’s level of privilege or discrimination–is crucial for a useful community assessment, so multiple voices need to be heard. Racial equity has been part of Head Start’s mission from the beginning. In keeping with that mission, it’s important to consider how issues like redlining and generational trauma continue impacting communities today.

Dr. Marilyn Hosea, former Head Start director and Head Start fellow, discussing strategies for effective community assessments during a Q.I. Network training.

Once the community assessment is completed, Head Start management teams should consider how to share findings, not just as raw data but as stories that clearly show decision-makers what is needed. For instance, assessment data is critical in identifying where to locate new centers or perhaps relocate long-established ones.

A data coach can help Head Start management teams put demographic data into context and identify key trends. The more decision-makers understand the rationale for changes, the more likely they are to support them. If a community assessment is conducted with effective analytics, it can sustain as a living document that continues to inform decision making over time.

Grant Planning

Head Start programs receive federal grants on a five-year cycle. If an agency meets requirements, they receive another five-year grant after submitting a new grant application but without competing with other agencies for funding.
Grant planning is an opportunity for Head Start management teams to identify gaps they need to fill. It’s also a chance to look at the program goals and see how the budget supports those goals. Goals may not change but the objectives around those goals can evolve depending on what’s happening at sites and in the community. 

For instance, if a Head Start management team identified high rates of social emotional challenges in the classroom, they might consider expanding a behavioral consultant’s work or rethink how they’re using the consultant’s time. One program in the Head Start Q.I. Network hired instructional aids and found it to be effective in reducing teacher burnout. 

When done well, the grant planning process is a data intensive process with strong elements of reflection, inquiry and dialogue among Head Start management.

Grant Writing

Effective Head Start grant applications clearly connect program design, program goals, school readiness goals, staffing structures, and other descriptions to internal and external data.

Successful applications articulate an understanding of the service area and eligible community members. They are more likely to succeed when they effectively share the data  and analyses that drive their decision-making. Strong proposals also include measurement and evaluation systems reflecting intentionality and purpose-driven program design. 

The structures, systems, plans, and goals written into the grant should reflect a community understanding. The ability to convey data stories is important. Q.I. Network members often find that the grant proposals reflect the cumulative work that they may have done with their  data and CQI coaches over the prior year or more.

Attendance and Chronic Absence

Attendance is a predictor of child success. Conversely, chronic absence is a powerful predictor of preschool age children not being ready for kindergarten. Over time, chronic child absence can mean serious learning loss and predict a child’s failure to read at grade level, as well as other negative outcomes.

If Head Start management effectively connects their data silos, they can discern child absence patterns. For example, they can determine trends for absence, how absence patterns relate to teacher CLASS scores, how absence relates to particular family needs, and many other demographic considerations. We have found that chronic absence to be one of the most fruitful areas for improvement projects among members of the Q.I. Network.

Policy Council

Policy Councils are rooted in the origins of Head Start, where enrolled parent and community voices drive the program’s direction and help guide their continuous efforts to improve services.

The key to a strong Policy Council is accurate and timely data reporting and informative data analysis. Data visualization can be a tremendous resource to Policy Councils, enabling them to quickly grasp strengths and service gaps. As data tools have evolved, visualizations have become easy to produce and a regular element of Policy Council meetings and practice. They elevate discussion and inform quality improvement practices.

Board Governance

Head Start governing boards have a fiduciary duty to ensure that their agency or district’s grant is being effectively implemented. The only way to do that is with data. As stronger data tools become available, governing board members are demanding higher quality reporting and analysis. 

When conducting a visit, federal reviewers will interview board members to determine their awareness and engagement in board governance. Reviewers expect to see evidence that boards are tracking important program issues and that Head Start management is practicing continuous improvement. Effective analytics and examples of real improvement projects with tangible outcomes can impress board members and satisfy federal reviewers.

Staff Supervision

Successful program operations are driven by supportive Head Start management teams structured to routinely connect with their staffing teams. Challenges in program outcomes often indicate that staff members do not have the tools and support they need to perform at their best. Data and quality analysis may demonstrate gaps in knowledge, motivation, or organizational culture. 

Q.I. Network members routinely work with data and quality improvement coaches to address staffing issues associated with supervision. This has included staff retention, morale, and staff, child, and family social emotional needs. Qualitative data, perhaps collected through empathy interviews, can be a critical resource and complement to quantitative data.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging

Head Start was born out of a commitment to reduce inequities in education and ensure that children from all socioeconomic backgrounds had the tools needed to thrive. That mission continues, as Head Start management teams continue striving to boost inclusivity for staff, families, and the broader community.
To accomplish this goal requires a recognition of the differences between equity and equality. Equality applies the same strategies to everyone, but it fails if it ignores the realities of systemic racism and other forms of oppression. Equity acknowledges these disparities and applies solutions tailored to each community’s needs. 

Effective data tools are critical in advancing equity. Averages and aggregate reporting can mask disparities. Effective data analysis will filter for vulnerable groups to ensure that everyone is thriving, not just the “average” student. Advancing equity requires good data tools combined with reflection and inquiry. Q.I. Network members have been successfully applying these tools to create stronger outcomes for their children and families.


Head Start Management Benefits from Better Data

When many early childhood professionals started their careers, data was an afterthought – something required for reporting, but not typically used to manage the program. With the advent of better tools and rising federal expectations, that is no longer an option. 

The good news is that easy-to-use data resources exist today, enabling programs to produce stronger outcomes. Early Intel supports program leaders across the country, incorporating these tools and processes as they advance their work.