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9 Tips to Prepare for a Successful Head Start Focus Area 1 Review

Head Start Directors have a huge responsibility ensuring their program adheres to all the federal regulations and requirements. And while this task can be overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be! By utilizing resources and being knowledgeable on Focus Area 1 of the Office of Head Start Federal Review Process, you are more prepared when it comes time for your review. Concentrate on what matters most - providing quality services that enhance outcomes in children and families served by your agency!

It's crucial to understand the two Focus Area reviews: FA1 and FA2. The

FA1 and FA2 reviews provide a comprehensive analysis of Head Start programs. FA1 focuses on plans and systems, while FA2 monitors their implementation. Both reviews prioritize data-driven decisions. FA1 focuses on systems and plans for collecting outcome data; the FA2 monitors the implementation plans through analysis of data.

FA1 reviews are held off-site, where relevant documents are reviewed, and in-depth interviews are conducted. On the other hand, FA2 reviews take place on-site, and include observations of all parts of a Head Start program and in-depth interviews. By understanding and preparing for these Focus Area reviews, you can ensure a successful Head Start program that benefits both children and families.

Tip 1: Prepare with Focus Area 1 Scripts

To ensure a successful review, we recommend starting by reviewing the protocols and watching the OHS-provided video as a team. For an even more comprehensive approach, we suggest creating scripts with specific details to practice for interviews. The review focuses on program design, management, quality education and child development, health program services, family, and community engagement, and effective ERSEA strategies and fiscal infrastructure.

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Tip 2: Prepare Your Data Plans

To lay the groundwork for the FA1 review, it's important to focus on data collection plans that emphasize outcomes. You'll need to collect data on child outcomes, health, curriculum fidelity, monitoring, teacher/child interactions, family outcomes, and progress towards goals. The key to success is to start with a solid foundation by thoroughly understanding the protocol and the FA1 review process. All staff should be prepared and well-informed about the plans, systems, and data collection processes. Get started today and make a positive impact on your programs!

Take your presentation to the next level by sharing infographics on your data plans, visual data like organizational charts, enrollment and staff demographics, inclusive classroom photos and child and family outcomes examples. Make your review team stand out with a collaborative and comprehensive approach.


Tip 3: Prepare Your Head Start Review Documents

Tip 3: Prepare Your Head Start Review Documents

Before conducting FA1 interviews, the Federal team thoroughly examines key documents:

  1. The community assessment details essential information on community needs, number of eligible children, and presence of pre-kindergarten programs. It should also include specifics about the families and children in need.
  2. The grant proposal and programs goals align with the community needs, and the budget illustrates how funds contribute to meeting the goals.
  3. Gain insight into past monitoring data, enabling you to see improvements among classrooms, centers, and programs.
  4. The team also reviews PIR data demonstrating important enrollment and attendance patterns among children, as well as staff qualifications.

Tip 4: Prepare Your Management Team

Prepare your management team and other stakeholders for the FA1 review by conducting initial interviews and including a representative from the monitoring or data analysis component. Take written notes for future reference. Start your introductory meeting with management staff by having each participant give a brief introduction of themselves. They should state their name, position, years of experience, and describe a specific strength of their leadership style - all in 60 seconds or less! Practice until everyone's got it down pat.

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Tip 5: Highlight Your Early Childhood Teachers

The FA1 will review your program's recruitment and retention of early childhood teachers. Recruiting and retaining top-quality early childhood teachers has become a major challenge. To address the current mass exodus of early childhood teachers, your program must demonstrate efforts that involve partnerships with local colleges, apprenticeships, and innovative training.

One essential solution is to provide a living wage, which can be achieved by enhancing technology, utilizing consultant services, or reducing executive compensation. Finally, share how your program provides professional development opportunities, uninterrupted planning time, and frequent breaks to keep teachers motivated.

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Tip 6: Describe Your High-Quality Childhood Classrooms

A successful FA1 review demonstrates your comprehensive program and describes how you enhance the classroom environment and support teachers. Your interview team with education managers can include lead teachers, a mental health consultant, disabilities coordinator, and a Human Resources representative.

Provide a detailed description of the curriculum and classroom environment, including a focus on teachers' support and environment monitoring. Vital to your program is an emphasis on teacher/child interactions, backed by the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS).

Your team will also showcase your effective coaching procedures by demonstrating data results. Show how you prioritize child outcomes and school readiness and how you gather daily data that helps personalize learning for our students that is essential for children’s growth.

The real magic happens when you back up your answers with plans to collect data.

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Tip 7: Prepare Your Health Team

The FA1 process includes an in-depth interview with your health team. Describe how Your health and nutrition services offer an integrated approach to health management, covering mental health consultation, HR support, and insurance linkage. Demonstrate your clear process for tracking child health outcomes and accommodating chronic health conditions and explain how you ensure that your program delivers the best possible care. Discuss how you prioritize preventative care and immunizations and ensure that children stay up to date on all well-child care.

In addition, your mental health consultant will explain how the program provides support for children, families, and staff, and promotes mental wellness throughout your organization. Include how your Human Resources team also offers employee-centered wellness programs to help our staff maintain optimal mental health.

Be prepared to show you will provide data visualizations to clearly illustrate your processes and outcomes.

FA 1 Review of Families

Tip 8: Demonstrate Your Family Support System

The FA1 review reviews how families are welcomed and engaged in the program. Additionally, the FA1 reviews how families are supported to meet families’ goals and needs. It is impressive when programs can discuss how they will use data gathered from monitoring tools. Programs that can document how they will collect data on family outcomes are better prepared for an FA1 review.

Focus Area 1 Fiscal

Tip 9: Combine Your Fiscal Process and ERSEA Procedures

The ERSEA section is combined with the Fiscal section in the FA1 review. The fiscal staff will need to be engaged in eligibility procedures and documentation. Often, programs use the fiscal staff to monitor child and family eligibility documentation. ERSEA needs to understand the fiscal implications of full enrollment, appropriate attendance rates, and correct eligibility documentation.

Prepare for the FA1 Review without Stress

Prepare for the FA1 Review without Stress

Preparing for the FA1 review can be an intimidating process, but with our helpful tips, it doesn’t have to be. While there are certain documents required, it pays to prepare scripts and anticipate questions in the primary interviews before entering the review. Don’t forget to practice rehearsing what will be said so that you are in the best possible place during your review.

If you are still overwhelmed by all of this or need any help at all, don't hesitate to call Sunshine Nonprofit Solutions! We provide training and have insightful tips on preparing a successful accreditation occurrence. As you set out on this journey, may success follow close behind you!

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Dr. Cathleen Armstead, the founder and president of Sunshine Nonprofit Solutions, has over 20 years of experience with successful Federal Reviews. I have coached clients for their own success in both Focus Area 1 and Focus Area 2 reviews. I am happy to share information and strategies with an initial (free) conversation!