Head Start Pre-K Local Partnerships That Work: Tulsa, Oklahoma

The Community Action Project of Tulsa County (CAP) combined the philosophy of traditional Head Start with collaborative partnerships from area school districts to transform a program on the brink of collapse into a highly regarded early childhood program. State Collaborators may find the strategies of this Community Action Project helpful.

In Brief

Local Partners in Tulsa, Oklahoma:

  • Community Action Project of Tulsa County (Head Start grantee)
  • Tulsa Public Schools
  • Union Public Schools
  • Sand Springs Public Schools

In Brief: By combining traditional Head Start philosophy and collaborative partnerships with area school districts, Community Action Project of Tulsa County (CAP) has transformed a program once on the brink of collapse into a highly regarded early childhood program. Co-location of early childhood centers next to public elementary schools ensures a continuity of care, fosters sustained parental engagement with the education system, and optimizes the use of available resources. CAP partners with local public schools to provide education to children with special needs, along with such operational support as food services and facilities coordination. Partnerships have evolved to include the delivery of home-based services and a program targeting teen mothers. This unique blend of Head Start with Oklahoma’s universal preschool program represents an approach that can be used by other communities to create a seamless transition at all levels from birth to kindergarten.

Successful features of this collaboration include:

  • Co-Location – In conjunction with three local school districts (Tulsa, Union, and Sand Springs Public Schools), CAP has become a major developer of state-of-the-art early childhood education centers. Since 2001, CAP has developed numerous early learning and family mega-facilities, built on the grounds of neighboring public elementary schools. Each new site consists of 12 to 20 classrooms, in addition to a health clinic, community room, and playground. The school districts lease land for the centers at essentially no cost to permit construction of the facilities; the buildings are then owned and operated by CAP. Total capital investment in these projects has been in excess of $60 million, generated through a combination of federal, state, and local grants, private donations, low interest loans, and tax exempt bond financing. 
  • Co-Operation – CAP employs various arrangements to jointly operate classrooms for young children enrolled at public elementary schools. Through specific approaches tailored to each facility, in some instances CAP provides only wrap-around family support services, health services, and program enhancements. At other locations, CAP supplies all educational services and fully operates classrooms inside buildings owned by the local school districts. The majority of children enrolled in either Head Start or pre-K are taught in separate classrooms, however at a few partnership centers, children are taught together with funding support provided in part through each program. This flexible, cooperative approach to classroom operation has benefited all involved, as it provides CAP immediate access to targeted neighborhoods, while also removing pressure from elementary schools to single-handedly deliver high-quality pre-kindergarten services.
  • Shared Service Delivery – CAP and the local school district in which each early childhood center is located established service agreements primarily to provide both food services and free and appropriate care for children with special needs. The majority of meals served at CAP’s Head Start centers are prepared at public elementary schools, and CAP has worked closely with the districts to improve the nutritional content of the menus. CAP’s nutrition team also coordinates with district staff to ensure that any restricted diets are being accommodated.
  • Services to children with special needs are provided in part by district personnel, including therapists and speech-language pathologists, who perform diagnosis, evaluation, therapy, medical care, family training, and case management as required in each child’s individualized education plan. Whenever possible, children remain enrolled at the early childhood centers with their typically developing peers. CAP’s teachers are trained and receive assistance in methods to adhere to each child’s IEP and to address any unique requirements. CAP’s disabilities team members are also available to assist classroom teachers in conjunction with the districts’ Developmental Delay program staff.

Written agreements

There are written service agreements between CAP and the local school districts to detail the delivery of meals and free and appropriate care for children with special needs.
The main components of the food services agreements include:

  • Days and hours of operation, including delivery and serving times
  • Nutritional content and menu requirements
  • Regulatory requirements including compliance with Head Start Performance Standards, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and state and local food codes
  • Compensation rates for breakfasts, lunches, and snacks
  • Accommodations for cultural/religious preferences and special dietary requirements
  • Responsibilities for equipment and supplies for preparation, delivery, and service of meals, including cleaning and sanitization

The main components of agreements for the care of children with special needs include the designated roles and responsibilities of each partner organization regarding:

  • Screening and assessment of children enrolled in Head Start, participation in Child Find activities, and the process to inform parents of their rights
  • Referral procedures, evaluations, and the development and implementation of Head Start-applicable portions of an IEP
  • Collaborative arrangements to support families through information dissemination, trainings for parents, and linkage with other community services
  • Annual reporting responsibilities for the number of children receiving IEP services under IDEA
  • Coordination of cost-sharing services (including any special equipment or necessary outside resources), required paperwork, IEP reviews, and in-service trainings for staff
  • Processes for resolution of disputes and limitation of liability

Specific aspects of collaboration

  • Child eligibility requirements: CAP serves all children from families meeting the Head Start income guidelines. Additional funding is made available through the State of Oklahoma Pilot Early Childhood Program to support classrooms serving three-year-olds from families earning up to 185% of the federal poverty guidelines.
  • Recruitment and enrollment: At this time, recruitment and enrollment are not done jointly between CAP and the local school districts. Parents of four-year-olds choose the early learning program in which they want to enroll their children.
  • Classrooms location and composition: CAP follows Head Start Performance Standards for adult/child ratios and class size for all classrooms.

In most instances, Head Start classrooms are located inside separate early learning facilities located on the grounds of neighboring public elementary schools. However, there are also some partnership centers housing a mix of both separate and blended Head Start and pre-K classrooms. CAP partners with three school districts, with unique arrangements in each:

    • Tulsa Public Schools has Center-based Early Head Start; co-Location of multiple, separate early childhood centers adjacent next to public elementary buildings; and Partnership classrooms inside public elementary buildings.
    • Union Public Schools has Home-based EHS; is a State Pilot Partner Provider; partnership classrooms inside public elementary buildings; and a program targeting teen mothers.
    • Sand Springs Public Schools has a Co-Operation of a 20-room facility – the largest center to date, in which the school district serves the four-year-olds, and CAP serves the younger children; and the operation of a renovated smaller facility, in which CAP shares space with other providers.
  • Staff qualifications and salaries: Oklahoma operates a universal pre-K system, making pre-K available to all four-year-olds on a voluntary basis. As such, teachers of four-year-olds must meet the criteria for the state pre-K program. Lead Teachers (Teacher IV) have Bachelor’s Degrees and hold a state certification in early childhood education. The Infant/Toddler teachers and teachers of three-year-olds (Teacher III) have Bachelor’s Degrees with at least 18 credit hours in early childhood education. Teacher assistants must meet the paraprofessional criteria for the state and have a minimum of a CDA after one year of employment.
            Teacher IV’s are paid on par with public school teachers, a rate based on qualifications and years of experience. Teacher III’s are also paid at a rate similar to the public schools, although they do not receive the additional pay if they are not state certified. Many itinerant teachers, such as Developmental Delay program staff, are paid by the school districts.
  • Curriculum and assessment: CAP uses The Creative Curriculum® for Preschool, having ensured that this curriculum meets objectives required by the Oklahoma State Department of Education. CAP also uses The Creative Curriculum® Developmental Continuum for assessments. Alignment of curriculum to ensure consistency between early childhood and elementary classrooms, and agreement on testing and screening instruments to improve standardization between Head Start and kindergarten assessments, are ongoing efforts.
  • Transportation: Parents provide transportation to Head Start classrooms, unless the child has an IEP, in which case the school district will pay for the service.
  • Parent involvement: Opportunities for parental involvement are available to all parents of children enrolled in CAP’s Early Childhood Program. Even at sites where some classrooms and slots are funded through federal Head Start dollars and others are funded through the State of Oklahoma Pilot Early Childhood Program, all parents are offered the same options for participation and each family is assigned a Family Support Specialist. Opportunities include back to school events, family connection social events, and two parent-teacher conferences and two home visits, all scheduled to align with the districts’ calendars. The Parent Policy Council does restrict membership to only parents of children enrolled in Head Start/Early Head Start.
  • Supervision and evaluation of classroom staff: CAP is responsible for the supervision and evaluation of all classroom staff working at the agency’s separate early childhood facilities. However, in some classrooms inside the partnership centers, district staff may serve both Head Start and pre-K enrolled children, but are then supervised and evaluated by the local educational agencies.
  • Comprehensive services: All children enrolled in CAP’s Early Childhood Program receive Head Start services, except for the rare instance in which a parent refuses such services.

Sources of funding

Services to four-year-olds are funded through federal Head Start dollars combined with available support for universal pre-K through the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Services for three-year-olds are funded through Head Start and the State of Oklahoma Pilot Early Childhood Program (for children ages birth through three), which is comprised of public dollars administered by the Oklahoma State Department of Education matched with private dollars, primarily from the George Kaiser Family Foundation. Infant/Toddler classrooms are funded through the State Pilot Program combined with Early Head Start funds.

CAP’s broad Early Childhood Program also relies upon annual operating support from sources such as the Oklahoma Department of Commerce (Community Services Block Grant funds and State Appropriated Funds for Head Start), the Tulsa Area United Way, and many private foundations and individual donors. CAP solicits additional support to meet operating and capital needs as necessary.

The major challenges this partnership has overcome

The major challenges this partnership has overcome are previously held negative perceptions of Head Start, territorial issues, and differing practices.

  • Perceptions: CAP assumed local responsibility for the program in 1998, as a replacement grantee. To combat the negative publicity and opinion about Head Start related to previous program history, CAP recruited an experienced program director and developed an aggressive plan to improve the quality of service in Tulsa County. Changes included: full-day programming; linkage with the public school systems; implementation of a standardized curriculum; recruitment and training of well-credentialed direct service staff; furnishing all sites with age-appropriate playgrounds; and supplying all classrooms with standardized equipment. Partnerships with well-established community agencies, such as Family & Children’s Services, also helped to improve the local reputation of Head Start. The result has been a vastly improved image in which CAP is now viewed as an educational agency offering high-quality services in concert with public schools.
  • Territorial issues: CAP has worked to establish partnerships with additional early childhood stakeholders not only in Tulsa County, but across the state. Participation with other providers in the statewide Pilot Early Childhood Program has allowed for joint trainings on best practices, shared financial resources, and group association with a significant research project regarding child outcomes throughout Oklahoma. CAP has also made connections with regional universities in support of early childhood education studies and credentialing programs for college students by accepting teacher interns, hosting guest lecturers, and recruiting graduates for employment in CAP’s program. Lately, CAP has reached out to build relationships with other Head Start providers in the county to forge common strategies to maximize available early childhood services. These efforts have proved effective at encouraging negotiations and agreements to solve mutual problems and avoid territorial conflicts over designated service areas.
  • Different Practices: While there are several differing approaches to early childhood education employed by CAP and the local school districts, the organizations are increasingly meeting on a regular basis to discuss ways to align specific practices. Some areas, such as family-style versus cafeteria-style dining, or the provision of a rest time, are differences currently left alone. Other areas, such as the educational curriculum and approach toward learning and discipline, are vital to discuss so that educators have consistent expectations of children as they transition from Head Start into the public schools. As such, CAP is working extensively with local district partners to help define a unified approach to early childhood education by providing suggestions on curriculum, best practices, and the alignment of student outcome data to be tracked.

Through this process CAP has learned that collectively, organizations with similar goals can pool resources and expertise to provide services that exceed the capacity of any one organization. Fundamental to the success of these partnerships has been ongoing communication between all involved. CAP recruits and maintains high-level school district representation on its Board of Directors, and also schedules frequent planning meetings with district staff. CAP’s Head Start program leadership confers with elementary school administrators in order to facilitate a team atmosphere, discuss ways to improve and track child outcomes, and to prepare together for each school semester. While inevitable differences in specific practices arise, a sustained dialogue allows for understanding and compromise on areas that are most vital to the success of enrolled children.

Head Start Pre-K Local Partnerships That Work: Tulsa, Oklahoma. HHS/ACF/OHS. 2010. English.

Last Reviewed: April 2010

Last Updated: November 13, 2014