A year later …progress for blended classrooms

I have written about “blended” classrooms before and all the benefits of “blending.” Last year, DCPS secured $11 million from the federal Head Start Bureau to “blend” Pre-K classrooms with Head Start classrooms.

“Blending” is combining the best elements of the two program models: Head Start (and its comprehensive family-focused services) and Pre-K (school readiness) plus the District’s federal and local funding sources to create a seamless and coherent system of services and supports for students in Title I elementary schools. The ability to blend Pre-K and Head Start classrooms was instrumental in ensuring that the District reached universal Pre-K, which was a clear benchmark laid out in the 2008 Pre-K Enhancement and Expansion Act. Because of blending, all Title I schools with PS/PK grades are required to meet the same standards of program quality.  

Now, a year later, DCPS is still running the blended model in its efforts to support early learning opportunities for low-income children. Currently, of the 6,000 preschool/PreK seats in DCPS, 5,000 of them are in blended model classrooms.

Here are a few direct results of the blended funding: (for a complete list see testimony).

    94% of children at Title I schools had a developmental and social-emotional screening within the first 45 days of school.
    Families of children enrolled in the blended classrooms are now served by the “Family Services” team, which consists of masters-level case managers working on referrals to assist families in crisis or connect them to social services.
    Each of the 67 schools affected has been assigned early childhood parent coordinators to support family engagement efforts, which is a long-standing benchmark of Head Start programs. Parents actively engage in leadership roles within the schools and become engaged in their children’s learning. The parent coordinators have successfully implemented the Pre-K Parents as Partners curriculum.
    In addition, as a direct result of this funding, DCPS was able to successfully pilot a new early childhood curriculum at Powell (Ward 4) and Garfield Elementary Schools (Ward 8). They are in their second year of implementation.
    The Head Start funding implemented the Tools of the Mind curriculum in 22 schools and 100 classrooms in the 2011-2012 school year. The plan is to expand to another 100 classrooms next school year if the funding is not jeopardized.

These remarkable achievements came at no additional cost to the District’s taxpayers. Children in the blended Head Start classrooms now have access to family support services, nutritious meals in the classroom, oral health and mental health services that research has shown to help our youngest and most vulnerable students make a successful transition to school.

With the current emphasis on “quality” Head Start programs with the re-granting efforts, DCPS Head Start getting commended for its quality during its last audit in September 2011 is simply amazing! Clearly the blended Head Start classrooms are working and can be model for the nation.  

This year, DCPS preschool and Pre-K enrollment grew to nearly 5,400 children and saw a substantial increase in the lottery applications. The unique preschool/PreK lottery application increased by 19 percent for the 2012-2013 school year, clearly showing more demand for DCPS preschool/PreK seats.

During this budget cycle, we know tough decisions are inevitable. All the stakeholders are out advocating for their schools, their causes, and their programs, but we cannot afford to compromise critical programs like blended Head Start, which are not only working but also leveraging significant federal funding.

The bottom line is that the blended Head Start model is working, it’s serving thousands of families and children and it is helping to break the cycle of poverty by ensuring that children have every support and opportunity necessary to enter kindergarten prepared to learn and thrive. DCPS is well-positioned to be a national leader in this area. If the blended Head Start classrooms succeed, they can serve as an innovative national model. Already there has been well-publicized coverage on national education blogs and journals. We cannot let this model program fail. As the Council considers the city budget, we highly recommend the resources are left intact for DCPS’ Office of Early Childhood Education so that it can continue to execute this program model at the highest level of quality.