Three Fundamental Steps for a Powerful Head Start DRS Improvement Plan

Are you a Head Start Director looking for ways to successfully navigate the DRS process and elevate your program to the next level? Crafting an improvement plan can be difficult, but it is essential for refining best practices and achieving lasting success. A well-crafted plan will provide measurable goals, clarify expectations, identify resources, and position staff for success, all while helping maintain compliance with Head Start regulations.

This blog post will explore how understanding the key elements of effective improvement plans can help strengthen your program in remarkable ways. We will discuss how to create a comprehensive and actionable improvement plan that will make a positive difference in your Head Start program and provide a compelling argument for continuing your services in the community. We will also detail key steps for setting measurable goals, analyzing data, implementing best practices, obtaining stakeholder input, and using resources effectively—all components of creating an impactful improvement plan.

We’ll begin with the three key steps to create an improvement plan. Then we will discuss the importance of understanding your program and describe effective strategies to achieve an understanding. We will turn our attention to examining daily practices and the data from each component or service area. A discussion of classroom practices, shared challenges, and effective solutions follows the discussion of data.

Let’s get started!

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Three Key Steps

To create a winning DRS proposal, it is crucial to follow four key steps to create a comprehensive improvement plan:

1) Understand and Build on Your Program’s Strengths

Appreciative Inquiry is an approach to understanding organizations and is a valuable process for building on strengths. Appreciative inquiry recognizes that every organization or program has something that works well. By identifying these strengths and expanding on them, you can drive positive change. This approach boosts the confidence and motivation of your team members as they work toward improvement. It is also important to value and embrace differences in culture, experience, and perspective.

2) Address Non-Compliance and Deficiencies

A thorough review of your program’s compliance with federal standards is necessary. Identify and address any areas of noncompliance or deficiencies to ensure that your proposal meets the required criteria.

3) Foster Consensus and Accountability

To implement improvements effectively, establish a consensus and accountability framework. Use radical candor to encourage open and honest communication among your team. This creates a culture of transparency and ensures that everyone is committed to the improvement process


Focus on Practices and Data

After gaining insight from the Head Start community, turn your attention to the day-to-day practices and resulting data. Here are some specific areas to explore:


A. How effective is our recruitment process? Do community events successfully enroll families? Can families take virtual video tours of classrooms on our website? Can they access videos of family members?

B. What are the enrollment and waitlist data? How is our average daily attendance? Does it vary by classroom?


A. Are we meeting our health and insurance requirements? Are oral and dental needs being addressed? Would a mobile dental van be beneficial?


A. Are children showing significant growth in their outcomes? Do girls and boys have different outcomes? Are there differences between native English speakers and dual-language learners?

B. How do we gather child outcome data? Can we streamline this process with tablets and voice-to-text technology?

C. How are we assessing the effectiveness of our curriculum? Are we using the CLASS assessment? How can we simplify data collection with touchscreen technology and digital forms?

Social and Emotional Health and Development

A. How is the social and emotional health of children, families, and staff? Are we collecting data on challenging behaviors in the classroom to address any racial/ethnic or cultural differences?

B. Do we have data on the social and emotional needs of families?

C. Can we use staff mental health data to enhance support?

Family Services

A. Are we evaluating the environment to ensure a welcoming atmosphere through staff and family interactions? Is our family needs assessment interview short and accessible?

B. Are we measuring family needs and outcomes regularly? What are the common needs? Can we form partnerships based on this assessment?

Once you have gathered this information, thoroughly review it to identify trends, strengths, and areas of concern. Use visual maps, poster boards, or whiteboards to display your data for all participants. Mind maps can be especially helpful for determining what is working and where different strategies are needed. By applying these essential steps, you will not only gain a deep understanding of your program but also create a compelling DRS proposal that stands out.

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Classroom Practices

Classroom practices play a crucial role in the success of early education programs and are a key factor in DRS findings. Fortunately, recent changes in regulations governing DRS have made program evaluation based on CLASS scores less burdensome. However, it is notable that classroom practices still account for most DRS findings. To improve these practices, it is crucial to invest in intentional training programs. When selecting a curriculum, prioritize those that offer comprehensive training modules, including on-site and online options.

Professional Development and Coaching

Unlock the potential of your teachers with the CLASS primer. This teacher-focused course introduces educators to the CLASS framework, allowing them to reflect on their classroom practices. With a flexible structure, teachers can prioritize domains and dimensions aligned with their personal learning and professional goals. The course also offers smaller learning opportunities that are accessible from any device, making it easier for teachers to fit professional development into their busy schedules.

Investing in an effective coaching process is another key strategy. An effective coach can manage eight to ten teaching teams, leading to significant improvements in classroom practices. Coupled with a myTeachstone CLASS® subscription, this coaching process becomes even more impactful. The subscription grants coaches and teachers access to on-demand learning experiences from a growing library of resources, videos, and courses aimed at building best practices.

Many programs try to force training and planning into limited time slots before/after school, or even during naptime. However, providing teachers with the opportunity to step away from the classroom and work with a coach in a comfortable environment can be much more effective.

Active Supervision

Finally, active supervision is another core component of effective classroom practices. Visual reminders, such as stop signs, can help teachers and children remember to pause and check their surroundings. Monitoring active supervision should involve all staff, including administration, fiscal, and maintenance, ensuring a consistent focus on children’s classrooms.

By implementing these key strategies, teachers and coaches can greatly enhance classroom practices and create a nurturing learning environment for all children.




Having an effective improvement plan for Head Start programs is essential in completing a DRS proposal to continue providing the best services to children and families. While it requires initial time and intentional effort, it is incredibly important to be thorough and comprehensive about the process.

The three key steps for creating a comprehensive improvement plan must be implemented correctly and rigorously. Survey responses, focus groups, feedback from participants, and a data review can provide the tools needed to make informed decisions about your program and build consensus.

Now that you understand the three steps to creating your Head Start improvement plan, we hope you are feeling more equipped to take on this challenge with confidence. To advance your program even further, be sure to read our next blog post, where we will discuss how to write a successful DRS proposal. Don't forget, if you run into difficulties or would like some help with your DRS proposal, our experts are available anytime.

Dr. Cathleen Armstead, the founder and president of Sunshine Nonprofit Solutions, has over 20 years of experience with Head Start/Early Head Start programs. This experience includes successful coaching and grant proposal writing for programs undergoing DRS. Our agency is small and provides individualized services to ensure successful re-competition for your grant and proposal. I am happy to share information and strategies with an initial (free) conversation!