Foundations for Excellence

Introduction: Five-Year Planning

Foundations for Excellence: A Guide for Five-Year Planning and Continuous Improvement, 2nd Edition highlights how sound planning practices support effective Head Start programs. In Head Start, the planning system is an essential part of program operations. This comprehensive guide shows programs what Head Start expects from strategic planning. The following pages cover a range of planning topics to support programs’ successful completion of the Head Start grant application, and to ensure that programming is responsive to community needs throughout the five-year grant period.

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To learn more about strategic planning thought leaders and principles, see Appendix A: Head Start and Data-Informed Decision-Making.

This updated guide reflects the Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS), the guiding principles and minimum requirements that shape all Head Start programs. The HSPPS and Head Start’s five-year grant application process ensure that stakeholders engage thoughtfully in strategic planning.

This guide discusses requirements and expectations for effective planning, program operations, and continuous improvement practices. Using real-world scenarios and sample templates, it also explores how reporting requirements support data-informed decision-making.

The Head Start planning cycle relies on a range of community voices and meaningful data to guide decision-making. This approach ensures that the five-year grant process, updates, and the decisions that emerge are based on objective data and community input. The desired outcome for programs is the creation of achievable program goals and related measurable objectives.

Extend Understanding

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Throughout this resource Head Starts refers to all Head Start and Early Head Start programs serving children ages birth to 5 and their families.

Whether you are new to Head Start or updating your knowledge of program planning best practices, this guide will help you to extend your understanding of:

  • How Head Start programs plan, identify, track, and achieve program goals that yield positive differences for children, families, and communities
  • How developing continuous improvement practices yields ongoing service-specific information
  • How to use ongoing feedback to guide decision-making and adjust services as necessary

Grow Knowledge

The following pages show programs how to:

  • Develop BROAD goals and SMART objectives
  • Design a planned approach to data collection and analysis that enhances program success
  • Create an individualized program planning process that meets the unique needs of the community

Answer Questions

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School readiness goals are a type of program goal. References to program goals are inclusive of school readiness goals. See Appendix C: Glossary of Program Planning Terms for related terms and definitions.

This guide supports continuous quality improvement by helping programs answer:

  • How will we know that our services are effective?

  • How can an action plan move us closer to meeting our goals?

  • How can we change our approach to improve our programs’ outcomes?

Organized Around Four Topics

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Topic 1

Nuts and Bolts of Strategic Planning explores key elements in program planning and the importance of program goals, objectives, outcomes, and action plans in improving child and family outcomes.

Topic 2 Planning Icon

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See the appendix for more tools and templates.

Topic 2

Five-Year Planning in Head Start explains the distinction between plans and planning and their significance in strategic planning. This topic also describes the different kinds of plans involved in Head Start’s comprehensive planning process and shares tips for establishing strategic long-term goals.

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Topic 3

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For strategies on using this resource, see Tips for Using Foundations for Excellence: A Guide for Five-Year Planning and Continuous Improvement, 2nd Edition in Appendix B.

Achieving Program Goals that Support Child and Family Outcomes clarifies the process for setting goals and objectives related to child and family outcomes. It describes the importance of keeping goals alive and how program goals, including school readiness goals, intersect to ensure comprehensive, high-quality services that are culturally and linguistically responsive. Tips and examples model how to track progress toward achieving family outcomes.

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Topic 4

Pulling It All Together—Program Examples includes four program scenarios, including a health services scenario, that further illuminate the Head Start planning process. Each scenario illustrates how programs integrate goals, objectives, expected outcomes, and action plans into the planning process. The examples include samples of strategic goals and measurable objectives, and how each connects to a program’s action plan. The scenarios include sample data tools and methods for tracking progress.

Use this guide to:

  • Support the development of both the baseline and continuing Head Start Grant Applications

  • Evaluate and measure current goals and objectives

  • Set goals, write objectives and outcomes, and develop action plans

  • Plan leadership training related to oversight roles of the governing body/Tribal Council and Policy Council

  • Discuss community assessment results with your program’s management team

  • Evaluate your strategic planning process

Topic:Program Planning

Resource Type: Article

National Centers: Program Management and Fiscal Operations

Last Updated: June 3, 2019