New federal standards for Head Start released


New federal standards for Head Start released

8:55 p.m. PDT September 2, 2016

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has announced new standards for national Head Start programs, the first comprehensive revision of the Head Start Program Performance Standards since they were originally published in 1975.

Head Start promotes school readiness with children in low-income families from birth to age 5. The programs focus on early learning, health and family services.

The new standards include:

  • Raising educational standards, curriculum requirements, and professional development expectations;
  • Increasing the amount of time children spend in Head Start;
  • Affirming the role of parents in leadership of the Head Start program, and strengthening parent engagement services;
  • Strengthening comprehensive services, including health and safety practices, mental health, services for children with disabilities, and support for dual-language learners;
  • Cutting the current 1,400 Head Start regulatory standards by approximately 30 percent.

The new standards reflect best practices and the latest research on early childhood development and brain science, according to a White House press release. The new standards are designed to reduce the achievement gap.

Nationwide, Head Start programs have served more than 33 million children and their families since the program’s inception in 1965.

The programs provide services to more than a million children every year in every U.S. state and territory, in farm-worker camps and in more than 155 tribal communities.

Students in the Salem-Keizer area can take part in Head Start programs through the Salem-Keizer School District, the Community Action Agency and the Oregon Child Development Coalition (OCDC).

In the district, 340 students, age 3 and 4, will take part in Head Start this year, an increase from the 306 participants last year.

Stephanie Whetzel, the Head Start coordinator for the Salem-Keizer School District, said they were able to receive additional funding to expand the program due to the high demand and long waiting list.

President Obama’s fiscal year 2017 budget for the Head Start program proposes an additional $292 million to increase the number of children who are eligible to attend Head Start for a full school day and full school year, according to the release.

Whetzel said she has not yet seen any documents outlining the differences between the new standards and the program thus far, but she is excited. She said they have been working on such improvements for years.

She believed the change in standards may center on the connection between pre-kindergarten and kindergarten staff and increasing dialogue between the two.

Cheryl Weatherly, education coordinator the district’s Head Start, said the standards from 1975 have outdated language and expectations.

“It’s really helpful to have the language updated,” she said.

Weatherly said the new standards will help make the programs more seamless for the educators, students and parents.

The new standards are more about the stages of development for a child, she said.

Weatherly said the district already does an annual review of its programs, so she anticipates a smooth transition into the new standards.

Contact Natalie Pate at, 503-399-6745 or on Twitter @Nataliempate

Head Start in Salem

To be eligible for Head Start services, a child must be 3 or 4 years old by September 10 and be from a low-income family — meeting federal income guidelines. Generally, qualifying children live close to the school site they attend, ensuring a successful transition into kindergarten at the same location.

It is estimated that approximately 50 percent of the program families speak languages other than English. Since Spanish is the most predominant of the other languages spoken, all of the classrooms are staffed with bilingual language support and parent volunteers.

Each classroom has a paid parent assistant. The parent assistant is typically a parent of one of the Head Start students in the classroom.

Salem-Keizer Head Start is a state funded program. The Oregon Department of Education monitors the program. Head Start Performance Standards are mandatory regulations that all Head Start programs must implement. The standards define the objectives and goals of a quality program.

As the program grantee, the Salem-Keizer School Board and the program Policy Council have the responsibility of shared governance, overseeing the delivery of high quality services to children and families. Each classroom has two parent representatives on Policy Council who make decisions about program operation, approve program policies and serve as the link from the sites to Policy Council.

Head Start applications are available at the school sites, at the links above, by contacting the Head Start central office at 503-399-5510.

District locations

  • Baker Elementary School, 1515 Saginaw St S
  • Bethel Elementary School, 6580 State St
  • East Salem Community Center, 1850 45th Ave NE
  • Fruitland Elementary School, 6425 Fruitland Rd NE
  • Lee Elementary School, 5650 Venice St SE
  • Liberty Elementary School, 4871 Liberty Rs S
  • Schirle Elementary School, 4875 Justice Way S

Published by Natalie Pate

Natalie Pate is a freelance journalist and author based in Salem, Oregon. She wrote about education for more than seven years at the Statesman Journal and now covers education and other topics throughout the Pacific Northwest. She is originally from Colorado and earned her B.A. in Politics and French from Willamette University.

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