The introduction of new federal rules, and a new requirement for the MAISD to “compete” for the federal Head Start (preschool) and Early Head Start (prenatal to 3-years-old) five-year grants, will lead to a number of changes to local programs in 2016-17. These changes, designed by the Office of Head Start to enhance program quality and child outcomes, are dependent on federal approval of the grant. The most significant change is the direction to end half-day 128-day preschool programs in favor of six-hour-classes over 180 days. In Muskegon and Oceana counties, this means 25 of the 32 classrooms will operate a minimum of six hours per day. All classrooms will also be in session an additional day on Friday.
While change is always difficult, this is a great benefit to our Head Start children. The average annual instructional dosage per Head Start child will increase by 91%, while there will be a 34% increase in the number of Early Head Start home-visiting slots with an emphasis on serving the community’s teen parent population. There will be a new limit of 16 children per preschool classroom, and eleven children per Early Head Start home visitor. In addition, Head Start will add curriculum support/coaching positions for teachers to provide ongoing support and access to mentorship. Finally, to provide support to staff and families of children presenting increasingly challenging behaviors, a new comprehensive social work structure including care management teams will be added.
Unfortunately, these required changes did not come with additional revenue from the federal government, while costs continue to rise. In order to build a more efficient program under the new financial constraints, other structural changes are needed--including consolidating operations. The new grant structure expands the MAISD’s Head Start operational responsibilities for all staff of Muskegon, Fruitport, and Mona Shores. This will streamline management and make regulatory compliance more manageable. The MAISD will also now employ non-classroom staff from both counties including home visitors, family advocates, and mental health staff. Classroom assistants, bus aides, and administrative support staff will be employed by PESG.
The MAISD will continue to operate the Muskegon Heights early childhood programs as it has for the past several years. Meanwhile Hart, Orchard View, Shelby, and Whitehall will operate as partners under the MAISD grant employing classroom staff only.
So what does this all mean to the number of children served? Under the current model, 980 children are served in Head Start classrooms and 90 receive home-based Early Head Start services. Under the new grant, 624 children and families will be served in Head Start classrooms, and 121 families will be served through Early Head Start. We expect that all eligible four-year-old children will continue to be able to be served by the Head Start and Great Start Readiness Program slots combined, and approximately 110 three-year-old children as well.
The bottom line is that our Director of Early Childhood Services Stuart Jones, his staff, and our school district partners crafted a grant centered around our children. We have been told to expect a response by July 2016. We will keep you updated on this important issue and our plans to continue to serve our neediest children and families in the very best ways.
Dr. John Severson
Muskegon Area ISD Superintendent