Management Team Roles in Planning

Head Start programs strive to provide comprehensive services to children and their families through partnerships with human service agencies, local governments, school districts, local businesses, service associations, and the other institutions. Program staff and management team members may use this resource to identify their roles in planning quality program services for Head Start families.

The following is an excerpt from Participating in the Management Process.

When program staff and parents recognize their management roles in planning, organizing, influencing, and evaluating their work, they become more effective service providers for Head Start families. In addition, when parents and staff view Head Start as a dynamic social system, the value of taking a team approach to providing services becomes clear.

Definition of Quality

The Advisory Committee on Head Start Quality and Expansion states that the quality of services must be a first priority; in other words, the basic element for a successful Head Start program is quality. All Head Start leaders are expected to provide quality, comprehensive services that foster each child's social competence.

The Head Start Program Performance Standards provide the tools, policies, and support leaders need to achieve quality service. In addition, every Head Start program is expected to establish trusting partnerships with parents and families that build on family strengths and competencies while supporting their cultures and languages. Head Start's mission is to ensure that each family enrolled in the program is supported as it fosters the child's development and strives to attain personal family goals. A program that focuses on quality exceeds these expectations.

The primary customers in any Head Start program are children, their families, and the community where they reside. By focusing on continuous improvement, Head Start staff, parents, advisory committees, and policy groups can build the foundation that supports quality services for children and families. To continually improve, programs need strong, committed governing bodies and policy groups, as well as effective management systems and procedures that support innovative ideas. Providing quality services also requires everyone's participation and contribution--staff and parents with the commitment and skills to plan effectively, take responsive actions, assess program strengths, identify areas that need improvement, and work toward implementing the improvements they identify.

Characteristics of a Quality Head Start Program

Quality Head Start programs share the following general characteristics:

Customer focus is the guiding principle of quality programs. In Head Start, our customers are the children and families we serve. Tim Nolan¹ discusses the closeness to the customer:

The very fact that fifty-one percent (51%) of the members of the policy council are parents indicates this attempt at closeness to the real needs of Head Start families. In addition, parents are hired for entry-level positions, and the staff that is recruited reflects the racial and ethnic diversity of the families being served.

A team approach is used to provide children and families with comprehensive services. Staff and parents collaborate to ensure that integrated quality services are offered. Programs work together to focus on the family and partnerships with parents, strengthen linkages with other community agencies, and achieve greater integration of program areas and coordinated service delivery.

Service delivery requires an integrated approach: Early child development and health services are covered on one track, while family and community partnerships are covered on the other. Program design and management link these tracks together. Furthermore, a high level of parent involvement is important in planning, designing, and implementing innovative programs.

Using a team approach ensures that a system for record-keeping and budgeting exists to meet the ongoing challenges of program growth. Program staff and parents meet frequently to communicate and share information across program areas. Through this exchange, staff can better establish and maintain effective record-keeping systems that contain complete, up-to-date, and accessible information that can be used for continuous improvement.

Effective leaders who use strong and inspiring management strategies are essential. The leadership of a Head Start program comes from its governing bodies and policy groups, including the board of directors and policy council, which are composed of parents and community representatives. The grantee and program administrators, directors, and managers also serve on the management team that provides leadership and direction.

Paula Jorde Bloom² writes that the program leadership should be the gatekeeper to quality. The director of the Head Start program sets the standards for excellence in the Head Start community. Once leaders understand these requirements of service excellence, they have a road map that they can use to help their staff meet the needs of children and families.

Empowered staff committed to providing outstanding service are an important characteristic of a quality program. To be empowered, people need to feel that they are a valuable part of a team. They must be encouraged to contribute their ideas and be recognized for their achievements. A team environment that empowers staff to provide outstanding services offers them opportunities for personal growth and develops their skills and abilities. As a result, program quality is enhanced, and staff can be energetic, creative, and motivated to work as a team and participate in decision making.

A focus on continuous improvement is crucial so that staff can measure and improve how they do their work. Being part of a quality program means constantly looking for ways to perform better and make the day-to-day routines a little smoother for children and families. Doing only what is required is not enough. The ongoing process to improve services is essential to ensure that the other characteristics of a quality program can meet the ever-changing needs of children and their families.

By implementing strategies for regular program assessment, staff can evaluate the level of quality performance, determine needed services, develop long- and short-range plans, and analyze and monitor how the work is being done. The Head Start Program Performance Standards help program staff measure their level of performance. A carefully designed, annual self-assessment process can guide programs in evaluating how well they are implementing their goals and objectives.

Another important aspect of the planning process is the Community Assessment that each Early Head Start grantee and delegate agency must conduct to gather the information they need to best meet the needs in their service areas.

Strong community partnerships created through communication and collaboration with other community organizations ensure that children, parents, and families receive quality services. These partnerships can be established with other health and human service agencies, local governments, school districts, local businesses, service associations, the media, and other local institutions.

In summary, if Head Start leaders, program staff, parents, and families are going to maintain a level of quality, they must:

  • Define quality within their program
  • Understand that improvement efforts apply to the entire program and involve everyone
  • Determine how they can provide quality services that meet the individual needs of children and families
  • Recognize that quality is dynamic and requires ongoing efforts--it is a continuous process

¹ Tim Nolan, "What Really Makes Head Start Work? You May Be Surprised!" Executive Briefing (Milwaukee, Wis.: Institute for Innovation in Human Services, 1994).

² Paula Jorde Bloom, "The Child Care Center Director: A Critical Component of Program Quality," Educational Horizons (Spring 1992): 138-145.

"Management Team Roles in Planning." Participating in the Management Process. Training Guides for the Head Start Learning Community. HHS/ACF/ACYF/HSB. 1997. English.

Last Reviewed: October 2012

Last Updated: August 11, 2015