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Superintendents Toolbox

Head Start and Early Head Start

Head Start began in 1965 as a program to fight poverty for children 3 and 4 years old.  Head Start is funded through federal tax dollars that are provided directly to local agencies that hold Head Start grants.

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Who are they?

In Kentucky, there are 31 grantees that provide Head Start services to at-risk families in all 120 counties. About half of Head Start grantees are school districts that provide services to a single county or city.  

Early Head Start provides similar services to children from birth to age 3.  In Kentucky, Early Head Start is operated by programs that are existing Head Start grantees.  You can find Early Head Start Programs in approximately 40 counties in Kentucky.

Click here to find a Head Start or Early Head Start program in your area you can visit.

What do they do?
The primary goal of the Head Start and Early Head Start programs is to have more at risk children arrive at Kindergarten ready to learn.  Head Start and Early Head Start provide comprehensive services to at risk children birth through age 5.  To be eligible to attend Head Start or Early Head Start a family must, typically, fall under 100% of the federal poverty limit.  Programs are allowed to alter eligibility criteria to give preferential status to other groups of children based on their need (ex. children with disabilities, children experiencing homelessness, children in foster care, etc.)
Head Start and Early Head Start programs adopt a “whole child” approach to early care and learning.  The federal guidelines they follow require programs to provide services to all five domains of child development.
Head Start and Early Head Start have a strong focus on building family strengths as well.  Each family is assigned two points of contact when they are participating in a Head Start or Early Head Start Program.  The classroom teacher discusses developmental needs of children with families.  This includes pre-math and pre-literacy, but also includes their child’s social emotional development as well.  The Family Service Worker (sometimes called Family Advocates or Family Aid Workers) discuss the strengths of the family as a whole.  Based on the belief that a parent is a child’s first and most important teacher, Family Service Workers help families build achievable goals and connect them with services (ex. employment, housing, medical, dental) should they be needed.

How can you partner?

Head Start programs are very similar to State Funded Pre-K programs.  This is particularly the case in educational requirements of classroom staff, transportation, and use of curriculum, screening and assessment tools.  In fact, when regulations for State Funded Pre-K programs were written in 1990, the authors began with an alignment to the Head Start Performance Standards.  Since then efforts have been made in Kentucky to ensure that regulations for State Funded Pre-K programs maintain alignment with their Head Start Counterparts.

Because of this alignment, Kentucky has a long history of partnership between school districts and Head Start grantees.  These partnerships take on many different forms and are often tailored to meet the needs of each community.  Consider approaching a potential partnership in phases:

Step 1:  Reach out to your local Head Start Contact.  Discuss how your programs are similar.  Discuss how they are different.  Visit a Head Start classroom and begin to think about how you and your Head Start partner may be able to share resources.

Step 2:  When you identify areas where you may leverage each other’s resources discuss how that may look when you implement.  For example, you may see that you both are providing similar professional development for your teachers.  Discuss how you might develop joint training.  Create a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with your partner that outlines what each party is willing to do.

Step 3:  Discuss a “fully blended” delivery model.  In most cases, Schools provide classroom space for both Head Start and State Funded Pre-K children.  Lead teachers are often paid for by the School District.  However, all terms of this deliver model should be discussed.  For example, if the school is providing space, perhaps the Head Start could provide transportation services, or meal services.  Maximizing resources leads to less duplication of services and improved child outcomes.
As with all partnerships, time and effort are required to ensure they remain healthy and productive.  However, time spent understanding how you and your Head Start partners can reach the maximum number of eligible children in your community will help ensure those children arrive at the kindergarten door ready to grow, ready to learn and ready to succeed!

For questions regarding Head Start, please contact Jennifer Miller at or (502)782-9477 (Direct Line).