From threat to opportunity: a head start program's response to state-funded pre-K.
Abstract: Early childhood education and childcare have traditionally been dominated by nonprofit and other grant-funded agencies. However, public education agencies are increasingly involved with early childhood education through state funded pre-K program initiatives. As public pre-school programming has steadily expanded, programs such as Head Start have to compete for enrollment. As funds for these programs are tied directly to enrollment, the sustainability of these programs is uncertain.

Not all such agencies view state funded pre-K as a threat however. Some have seized this as an opportunity to improve service delivery through interagency collaboration. This case study examines the partnership between an urban school district and its local Head Start program. Responding, in part, to the potential threat from state-funded Pre-K, Head Start partnered with the school district to provide enhanced services to Head Start eligible children in the district's early childhood education programs. Through an examination of secondary data and staff surveys, the collaboration is first evaluated in terms of the use of best practices. The success of the collaboration is measured through teacher and administrator perceptions. From these results, specific recommendations for early education and childcare providers are offered.
Article Type: Report
Subject: Group work in education (Management)
Team learning approach in education (Management)
School districts (Services)
School districts (Alliances and partnerships)
School districts (Management)
Educational programs (Management)
Author: Wrobel, Sharon
Pub Date: 06/22/2012
Publication: Name: Journal of Health and Human Services Administration Publisher: Southern Public Administration Education Foundation, Inc. Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Government; Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Southern Public Administration Education Foundation, Inc. ISSN: 1079-3739
Issue: Date: Summer, 2012 Source Volume: 35 Source Issue: 1
Topic: Event Code: 200 Management dynamics; 389 Alliances, partnerships; 360 Services information Computer Subject: Company business management
Organization: Organization: University of Arkansas; University of Arkansas; University of Arkansas
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Name: Arkansas Geographic Code: 1USA United States; 1U7AR Arkansas
Accession Number: 304051552

Historically, early childhood education, or preschool, has been the domain of private entities, nonprofit organizations or, more recently, grant funded programs such as Head Start. Head Start, which was created in 1964 as part of Johnson's "War on Poverty," is one of the longest running and recognizable early childhood program aimed at low-income preschoolers and their families. While the program has endured its share of criticism over its 45 year history, it is generally regarded as a beneficial and at least somewhat successful program.

Over the past few decades, however, the Head Start Program has faced a number of challenges that threaten its makeup, if not its very existence. First, while reauthorization bills have stressed the need for greater financial commitment to the program, Head Start appropriations actually decreased by $893 million between 2002 and 2008 when adjusted for inflation (Parrott, 2008). Second is the dramatic growth in the number of states who now have state-funded preschool programs. Currently, 38 states have state-funded preschool programs, and enrollment has jumped from 14 percent of four-year-olds in 2002 to 25 percent in 2009 (Barnett, 2009). A final and perhaps more immediate threat is the proposal that the Head Start program devolve from a national program to state-run programs. Funding, in the form of block grants, would be allocated to the states to support the design and implementation of their own unique programs (Gilliam & Ripple, 2004). In the face of such challenges, Head Start programs nation-wide have had to reconsider how they function and to generate strategies that will keep them thriving and relevant for the next 45 years.

One way to approach these challenges is through interagency collaboration. Interagency collaboration may be defined as "any joint activity by two or more agencies working together that is intended to increase public value by their working together rather than separately" (Bardach, 1998, p. 8). Due to an increasing focus on more efficient and effective service delivery while meeting an ever-expanding list of service needs, public agencies have embraced a number of strategies for building capacity, including contracting, privatizing, and collaboration (Page, 2003). There are a number of benefits associated with entering into collaborative agreements, including decreased duplication, minimizing cost and improved coordination, effectiveness, and responsiveness (Selden, Sowa & Sandfort, 2006). Interagency collaboration is not without its drawbacks, however. Often organizational environments and processes present challenges in implementing collaboration, particularly for agencies that have high levels of accountability (Page, 2003). In education settings, both accountability and operational limitations, which are policy based, may be particularly challenging to interagency collaboration.

For the purposes of this article, the proposition that early childhood education, in one form or another, is a necessary component in government efforts to close the achievement gap and reduce poverty is treated as a priori. To demonstrate how an early childhood collaborative agreement might work, the case of a Head Start program's partnership with the local school district's state-funded Prekindergarten program is presented. The collaboration is evaluated in terms of three "best practices" criteria identified in the social services literature: Commitment, Communication, and Leadership. Having established the utilization of these practices, the results of a partner survey demonstrates teacher and administrator perceptions of the benefits and challenges of the collaboration. Finally, recommendations as to how early childhood education and child services providers can ensure a successful collaboration that better serve the needs of children and families are offered.


Pressure to devolve social service programs from federal control to state control has been ongoing since the mid 1990's. The most notable example of this is the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) enacted in 1996. With this reform, federal welfare programs were dismantled and monies, in the form of block grants, were appropriated to the states for state-formulated and administered welfare programs. While the states developed their own programs, they were required to adhere to strict stipulations to receive full funding (Henry et al., 2006).

The first two arguments offered supporting the devolution of Head Start are similar to those given in support for welfare reform, that is, the need for local control and potential costs savings. It is argued that states are in the best position to determine and address the needs of their own communities, as opposed to a "one size fits all" approach. Further, cost savings are likely to be realized through the elimination of the fragmented and redundant programming that currently plagues early childhood education (Ripple, Gilliam, Chanana, & Zigler, 1999; Henry, Gordon & Rickman, 2006). Other arguments include improved classroom-based program quality, better qualified teachers, more inclusive eligibility requirements, more positive peer effects, and integration of preschool into state K-12 systems (Ripple, et al., 1999; Gilliam & Ripple, 2004; Zigler & Styfco; 2004, Henry et al., 2006; Karch, 2010).

It is further argued that the current Head Start program is inadequate in meeting the needs of poor children. First, the strict eligibility requirements mean that Head Start can only serve the poorest students, leaving many low-income children behind. Second, Head Start programs tend to focus only on 4 year-olds, whereas alternatives can focus on 3-5 year olds. Head Start has been unsuccessful in reaching the target population, serving only about 40 percent of eligible children nationally. While this is due largely to lack of funding, it is still a legitimate concern. Finally, most Head Start programs are partial day, partial year programs, which do not meet the childcare needs of working families (Ripple et al., 1999). It is assumed that by providing funding directly to the states, resources could be consolidated with statewide preschool and child care programs to provide quality, comprehensive services to ensure all children are prepared for school.

Of course, there are also compelling arguments for keeping the federal Head Start program "as is." The key concern is overall program quality. While opponents focus on the lack of sustained academic benefits, proponents point out that Head Start focuses on the "whole child." As a comprehensive program, Head Start provides physical, oral, and mental health services, and nutrition, as well as parenting, career, and educational assistance for families (Henry et al., 2006). Others argue that Head Start is also better at serving students with disabilities. While all state or federally funded preschool programs must adhere to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004, Head Start must reserve ten percent of available slots for children with disabilities, though often the percentages are actually higher. Moreover, many state funded preschools refer students with disabilities to Head Start because of the comprehensive services provided (Zigler & Styfco, 2004). Finally, Head Start requires relatively high levels of parental involvement in both the classroom and in program governance. According to Zigler and Styfco, Head Start recognizes that "parents are the child's primary teacher" (2004, p. 52) and includes parent volunteers in classroom activities. As part of the governing structure, each Head Start grantee has a policy council to help guide program policy. Fifty percent of this council is mandated to be comprised of Head Start parents, with former parents often making up much of the balance of members (Zigler and Styfco, 2004).

The relevance of the devolution of welfare is significant not only in how it is similar, but also in how this debate is different. Both represent a shift in public and government attitudes toward social services and both argue local control as essential in ensuring the effective and efficient delivery of those services. However, bipartisan support for welfare reform hinged largely on the mandate for empirical, randomized evaluations of program success. There have been no such demands in the current debate. Head Start devolution is not based on unfavorable comparisons between the federal program and existing state-funded preschool programs, but simply on the perceived failures of Head Start alone. This is complicated by the fact that there is little in the way of methodologically sound research on the short term and long term effects of Head Start, and what exists is often contradictory and difficult to generalize. A 1997 review of the research by GAO determined that there was insufficient evidence of program effectiveness to make program decisions (Henry et al., 2006).

There is also little empirical evidence that state run programs, generally, out-perform Head Start. That said, there have been two comprehensive, methodologically rigorous studies that compare Head Start to exemplary state-funded programs in Oklahoma and Georgia. To get a clearer understanding of what is possible with state funded programs, these two examples warrant discussion.

Henry et al. (2006) used a quasi-experimental design to compare state-funded prekindergarten and Head Start in Georgia. Using a sample of 106 Head Start children and 201 prekindergarten children, they attempted to answer two questions. First, they wanted to know if teacher and service quality differed between the two programs. Second, they investigated whether children who received services from Head Start had different developmental outcomes than those who attended the state prekindergarten. To ensure a meaningful comparison, the prekindergarten sample only included children who met federal Head Start eligibility requirements. To further reduce bias, the authors also used propensity score matching to match each child in the Head Start group to the prekindergarten group. The results of their analysis largely favored the state program. Both groups of children made significant gains, based on kindergarten four cognitive assessments: Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT), Woodcock-Johnson Test of Achievement III, Letter-Word Identification Subset, Woodcock Johnson Test of Achievement III, Applied Problems Subset, and Oral and Written Language Scales (OWLS). However, the prekindergarten students outperformed the Head Start children on all four measures. The researchers then collected teacher ratings of students' pre-reading, pre-math, health, social skills, and overall school readiness. Again, the children who attended the state program out-performed the Head Start children. The authors do point out that as a comprehensive program Head Start provides services in some areas, such as parental involvement, that their study did not address. While they see their findings as supporting devolving Head Start to the states, the caution that additional research, particularly in areas not addressed in their study, is necessary to inform future devolution discussions (Henry et al., 2006).

The second study of interest was conducted in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Gormley, Phillips, Adelstein, & Shaw (2010) compared the Tulsa Public Schools' prekindergarten program and those who had attended the Tulsa Community Action Project Head Start. To adjust for possible selection bias between the treatment groups (pre-K and Head Start) and their respective non-experimental control groups, the authors used propensity score matching (Gormley, et al., 2010). Using four datasets: Cognitive testing data, a parent survey, and administrative data from both programs, they found that both programs had positive cognitive effects, but that those in the prekindergarten program had better outcomes in the areas of pre-reading and pre-writing. They found no difference between the two programs in pre-math skill scores, though both produced gains. Head Start did not appear to outperform the state program on emotion/behavioral measures, but was reportedly more effective in providing dental care and overall health outcomes. Again, the authors stress that this is the study of a single district. However, they do point out that while both programs appear to be successful in preparing children for kindergarten, each has its own areas of strength. They note that this might be advantageous to parents, who will be able to choose the program that best meets their needs. They also suggest that the competition between the two programs may spur program improvements, such as the increased Head Start teacher salaries evidenced in the study (Gormley et al., 2010).


Interagency collaborations are increasingly being used to address complex social problems. This is driven not only by the need to "do more with less." Agencies may consider collaborating when they are unsuccessful in addressing these problems on their own (Mullin & Daley, 2010). While the use of interagency collaborations has become fairly widespread, there is little consensus as to exactly what these arrangements should look like. Collaboration involves more than simple cooperation or coordination. At a minimum, Sowa contends, "interagency collaboration requires (a) two or more organizations working together, (b) some kind of activity, and (c) some kind of public value produced through the activity" (2008, p. 301).

Interagency collaboration may take many forms. In order to determine the appropriate strategies for collaboration is it important to distinguish which form--which level of analysis--is most appropriate in a given situation (Selden et al., 2006; Sowa, 2008). Kagan identified four types of interagency collaboration: policy-centered integration, organization-centered integration, program-centered integration, and client-centered integration (as cited in Selden, et al., 2006). While it is possible for arrangements to cross types, collaborations between state-funded preschool and Head Start programs are best defined as program-centered.

Potentially, there are significant gains which can be realized through collaboration. Agencies can increase funding capacity, better address client needs, diffuse risk, and maximize the benefits of shared resources such as volunteers and equipment. Potential benefits are even more promising when the parties involved have closely aligned goals. Risks involved with interagency collaboration include loss of autonomy, ill-defined evaluation criteria, mission drift, and the expenditure of considerable time and resources with little or no benefit (Gazley, 2006).

Interagency Collaboration and Child Services

A number of studies specifically address the unique challenges and opportunities of interagency collaboration among providers of child services. Many of these studies note that while there is a compelling need for the integration of child services, organizational and structural issues seem to hinder successful interagency collaboration (Meyer, 1993; Daka-Mulwanda, Thornburg, Filbert and Klein, 1995; Johnson, Zorn, Tam, and Lamontagne, 2003; Sowa, 2008). Sowa (2008) studied interagency collaborations between child care and prekindergarten, Head Start and child care, and prekindergarten, child care, and Head Start in New York and Virginia. She found that "organizational and policy environment characteristics may influence the implementation of an interagency collaboration, leading to differences in how those collaborations operate following the implementation stage" (Sowa, 2008, p.317). Common barriers include poorly defined goals or objectives, challenges of organizational structure and culture, the lack of effective leadership, inadequate time or resources, and communication issues (Meyers, 1993; Daka-Mulwanda et al., 1995; Johnson et al., 2003). Issues specific to child services include standards of confidentiality (Daka-Mulwanda et al., 1995; Johnson et al., 2003), evaluation mandates (Meyers, 1993; Daka-Mulwanda et al., 1995; Johnson et al., 2003), and legal/policy constraints (Daka-Mulwanda et al., 1995; Johnson et al., 2003; Sowa, 2008). Programs such as Head Start are highly structured and are subject to strict performance standards and monitoring. As a result, these programs may be reluctant to enter into collaborations that reduce their control. If they do choose to collaborate, they may opt for arrangements that minimize interagency interaction (Sowa, 2008).

In addition to common barriers to collaboration, the research has also identified a number of "best practices" for collaboration among child services agencies. One such study sought to determine which factors in the collaboration process were associated with successful and unsuccessful collaborations. Interviews of 33 stakeholders in 12 public and private agencies in Ohio revealed seven factors that were associated with successful collaborations: commitment, communication, strong leadership, an understanding of agency culture, serious pre-planning, sufficient resources, and the minimization of turf issues (Johnson et al., 2003). These factors were conflated into the three broader factors of communication, commitment, and leadership. For the purposes of collaboration, "commitment" refers to shared goals and vision. Johnson et al. (2003) found that if a significant number of the participants lacked commitment to the collaboration, it was likely to fail. Communication was found to be especially important during the planning phase of the collaboration, and helped to engender shared goals and trust among participants. Strong leadership entails an understanding of agency perspectives and priorities, the authority to make decisions, and the ability to allocate and utilize resources needed for collaboration efforts. Perhaps most importantly, leadership must demonstrate that they are personally committed to the collaboration (Johnson et al., 2003).


This research is a case study of the partnership between the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Head Start program and the Little Rock School District. The UAMS Head Start Little Rock School District Enhanced Services program is a collaboration through which UAMS Head Start provides services to Head Start eligible children, and their families, in the district's state-funded prekindergarten program. Services to children include health, nutritional, dental, and mental health. In addition, parenting, career, education, tax, housing, and other service referrals are provided to eligible parents. Using agency documents and program data provided by the Head Start program, the two programs are described in terms of structure and enrollment. The collaboration process was evaluated in terms of the best practices identified by Johnson et al., (2003), specifically commitment, communication, and leadership. Finally, as a measure of the success of the collaboration, the results of a web-based partner survey were analyzed. From these findings, recommendations for early childhood education and child services collaborations were generated.

Forty-five school district teachers and administrators involved in the UAMS Head Start Little Rock School District Enhanced Services collaboration were asked to complete an anonymous, web-based questionnaire. Teachers and administrators were asked to respond to 16 questions about implementation, communication, collaboration outcomes, and were given the opportunity to suggest improvements. Teachers were asked ten additional questions regarding the delivery of specific services. Five administrators and eleven teachers responded to the survey, for a total of sixteen respondents. Given the relatively small number of respondents, only descriptive statistics and tabulations are presented. It is important to note that the present study is descriptive and exploratory in nature. As such, the findings cannot be generalized to partnerships involving other agencies or in other locations.

UAMS Head Start and the Little Rock School District

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) has been running its Head Start program since 1998. It is a 166-day, full-day program administered under the UAMS Department of Pediatrics. It is funded by the federal Head Start grant, as well as other grants and contributions, most notably a School of the 21st Century grant. Program governance consists of the Executive Director and Director, a nine-person Governing Board, and a 24 person Policy Council of parents and former parents. UAMS Head Start employs 61 teachers, 51 assistant teachers, and 53 specialists, including a Family and Community Partner Specialist, Family Enrichment Specialists, and Child Development Specialists. Fifty-five percent of the teachers have a bachelor degree or higher.

The program serves 1,090 three- and four-year-old children and their families, which is approximately 16 percent of the potentially eligible students in the service area. Children attend the program in one of 20 Head Start centers or, if part of the preschool partners, in one of ten school-based prekindergarten programs. Eligibility for the program is based primarily on income; household income must be at or below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). The income requirement may be waived if the child has a qualifying disability or is currently living in foster care, and the program is permitted to enroll students who are under-income if (a) there are slots available and (b) the over-income students make up no more than 10 percent of the students. However, UAMS Head Start always has a waiting list, and more that 95 percent of the children they serve are living below FPL. The ethnic distribution of the program is 78 percent African American, 13 percent Latino, and nine percent white. Seventy percent of families are headed by a single parent, and among single parent households, approximately 35 percent are unemployed. The 22 Head Start Centers generally fall along the diagonal from northeast down to the south-central area of the city. This is consistent with the highest concentrations of Head Start eligible children and families.

Student learning and assessment in the program is based on "Creative Curriculum," a comprehensive approach that focuses on both the cognitive and emotional development of pre-school aged children. Students are assessed three times a year on 56 items across eight domains. Nine of these items are the federally mandated Head Start objectives. The assessment results are used to develop individualized student goals and strategies.

In addition to educational services, UAMS Head Start provides health, nutrition and other social services to children and families. Some of these include meals, medical, dental, and mental health screening and referrals. These services, as well as parenting, career, and educational services and referrals are also provided to parents. Parental involvement is a program mandate, and in 2009, 977 parents and former parents volunteered at the 22 Head Start sites, representing more than $531,000 in in-kind contributions.

The Arkansas Better Chance for School Success in the Little Rock School District, a state funded preschool program, has an enrollment of 1,350 4-year-olds in 28 school-based programs. To be eligible for the program, families must earn at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. The program may also admit children from over-income families if they are in foster care, have an incarcerated parent, or have a parent serving in the military overseas.

Sixty-seven percent of children are eligible for free or reduced lunch (at or below 185% of the FPL). Based on the National Center for Education Statistics Common Core of Data for 2008, African Americans constituted 66 percent of pre-K students, with the next largest group being white at 21 percent. Hispanics make up another ten percent with the remaining three percent made up of all other ethnicities.

The program adheres to the state adopted curriculum called the Arkansas Early Childhood Education Framework. This curriculum is comprised of five Strands: Social/ Emotional, Creative/ Aesthetic, Cognitive/ Intellectual Learning, Physical Development, and Language-and 11 Benchmarks. (Arkansas Department of Human Services, 2004).

The Partnership

In 2006, UAMS Head Start entered into a collaborative agreement with the Little Rock School District (LRSD) to serve Head Start eligible children and families attending the public prekindergarten program. Head Start agreed to provide enhanced services including health, dental, nutrition, and mental health (University of Arkansas, 2008). The stated reasons for this collaboration included a desire to serve Head Start eligible children and families in the district, provide low-income children with "wrap around" services that the Little Rock School District was unable to provide, and the belief that working together, the two agencies would be able to better serve the community without incurring additional costs (McKinney & Nugent, 2008).

Beyond these reasons, however, both agencies have mandates to collaborate with other agencies and community partners to better meet their goals. Below are sections of the performance standards for the two programs. The key collaboration language has been noted in bold face.

Head Start Performance Standards:

Grantee and delegate agencies must take affirmative steps to establish ongoing collaborative relationships with community organizations to promote the access of children and families to community services that are responsive to their needs, and to ensure that Early Head Start and Head Start programs respond to community needs., including: (I) Health care providers, such as clinics, physicians, dentists, and other health professionals; (ii) Mental health providers; (iii) Nutritional service providers; (iv) Individuals and agencies that provide services to children with disabilities and their families (see 45 CFR 1308.4 for specific service requirements); (v) Family preservation and support services; (vi) Child protective services and any other agency to which child abuse must be reported under State or Tribal law; (vii) Local elementary schools and other educational and cultural institutions, such as libraries and museums, for both children and families; (viii) Providers of child care services; and (ix) Any other organizations or businesses that may provide support and resources to families (Head Start Performance Standards 1304.41 a (2)).

LRSD, under the guidelines of ABCSS:

Any program funded through ABC shall work in collaboration with DCCECE, ADE, local businesses and other early childhood providers (school districts, educational cooperatives, Head Start, HIPPY, private and nonprofit providers, etc.) to ensure that all eligible children are served in the most suitable environment. This collaboration shall include, but is not limited to, participation in and/or facilitation of local early childhood meetings and referring families to other programs when appropriate. (AR Admin. Code 005.24.0016.02)

The first step in creating the agreement was to bring together the key stakeholders in the two programs. Representative from Head Start included the Regional Office, the UAMS Chancellor, the Parent Policy Council, and the UAMS Head Start Governing Board. LRSD was represented by the Early Childhood Director, the superintendent, the school board and elementary school principals. The product of this group was a Memorandum of Understanding signed by both parties.

The next step was to identify the target schools and enlist support from school principals and teachers. The collaboration team looked at schools that had low test scores, low attendance rates, and those that had a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students. Once schools were identified, the director of Head Start and the Early Childhood Director conducted informational meetings at each school to introduce the plan to teachers and principals and demonstrate how it could enhance the services provided to their students. The purpose was to ensure that only schools that supported the collaboration would be asked to participate. In the end, ten preschool programs in ten elementary schools were selected.

Once the schools were chosen, the Head Start and Public School partners created an advisory committee. In addition to the two directors, this committee included principals or coordinators, health specialists representing the two programs, family and education resources specialists, oral and mental health specialists, and an afterschool care coordinator and a parent coordinator. This advisory committee holds monthly meetings to help ensure that the partnership reflected the interests of the various stakeholders and to make certain that resources are used efficiently.

Responsibility for recruitment, application, and enrollment of students in the Prekindergarten program with enhanced services was a joint effort between the two programs. Students had to be Head Start eligible, meaning they had to have a household income of 100 percent of the poverty level or less. Like the center-based program, up to ten percent of enrollees could be over-income. Currently there are 180 children participating in the program, with a student/teacher ratio of ten to one. All teachers are certified to teach pre-K through grade four (P-4). This means that they have at least a bachelor's degree in education and have passed the teaching Praxis exam (, 2010). Classroom assistants have at least the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. The school district provides classroom instruction using the state adopted curriculum in a mixed setting (enhanced service students as well as regular program students), and the school day is seven hours long (McKinney & Nugent, 2008). The program operates for nine months, following the district calendar.

Four Family Education and Resource Specialists serve the needs of the Head Start eligible students and their families. Enhanced services in the district prekindergarten sites mirror the "wrap around" services in the center based program. They address health needs, including vision and hearing screening, and provide Body Mass Index (BMI) reports. They may also make child mental health referrals, and address student attendance issues. In addition to these services, the dental program, Oral Health Initiative, has now been expanded to include all students, not just those who are Head Start eligible. Parents and families are connected to community resources, including tax information, housing, food assistance, mental health referrals and parenting information (McKinney & Nugent, 2008). Finally, it appears that the collaboration has resulted in increased resources for both agencies. As a result of this relationship, the school district and Head Start applied for and received a $2.9 million Early Reading First Grant (UAMS Head Start, 2010).


Teachers and administrators from the LRSD who participated in the Head Start Enhanced Services program were asked to respond to 12 fixed response questions about their involvement, communication, benefits of the collaboration, Head Start Enhanced Services staff, and three open-ended questions asking about the greatest benefits and recommendations for improvement. Teachers were asked an additional set of ten questions regarding specific child and family services.

In the first section of the survey, respondents were asked to indicate their agreement with the statements: As part of the collaboration with UAMS Enhanced Services: I understand the purpose of the UAMS Head Start Enhanced Services Program (Understanding) and I am involved in the implementation of UAMS Enhanced Services (Implementation). Responses were coded on a Likert scale, with "Strongly Agree" coded as 4, and "Strongly Disagree" coded as 1. The results of these items are presented in Table 1.

Among teachers, the mean score for Understanding was 3.5 out of a possible 4, indicating a relatively high level agreement. Only one of the 11 teachers indicated disagreement, rating this item as "Strongly Disagree." For Implementation the mean score was slightly lower at 3.2, with only one teacher disagreeing with this item.

Five administrators responded to these same questions. The mean score for Understanding was 3.6, and none of the administrators disagreed with this statement. For Implementation the mean administrator score was 2.6. Two of the five administrators responded that they were not involved with the implementation of the Enhanced Services program.

The next set of questions was concerned with communication. Again, respondents were asked to indicate their level of agreement with the following two statements: I have good communication within my school regarding the collaboration with UAMS Head Start Enhanced Services and I have good communication with UAMS Head Start Enhanced Service Staff regarding the collaboration. As shown in Table 1, the mean score for teachers was 3.2 for both communication within the school and communication with the Enhanced Services staff. Among administrators, the mean score within the school was 3.0, while the mean for communication with Head Start Enhanced Services staff was slightly higher at 3.4. Finally, both teachers and administrators were asked how often they communicated with the Head Start Enhanced Services person assigned to their school. Three teachers indicated that they had weekly communication, and the other six teachers and all five administrators indicated that they communicated monthly.

While the relationship between partners is an important factor in a well functioning collaboration, perhaps the best indicator of success is how participants perceive the benefits of the collaboration. Respondents were asked to indicate their agreement with four statements that broadly focused on collaboration outcomes. These questions asked: As a result of the collaboration with the UAMS Head Start Enhanced Services: My school has greater capacity to provide family services (Capacity), My school is better able to provide parents and families with additional resources and service (Better Services), My school has increased resources, and There are benefits for children not eligible for UAMS Head Start Enhanced Services (Benefits). The results from this section are presented in Table 2.

Seven of the ten teachers responding indicated that they "Strongly Agreed" with each of these four statements. The mean scores for Capacity, Better Services and Benefits were all 3.3, respectively. Two teachers "Strongly Disagreed" with three of the four items; only one "Strongly Disagreed" with the statement As a result of the collaboration my school has increased resources. The mean score for Resources, however, was 3.4. While teachers, overall, felt strongly about the benefits of the collaboration, administrators were somewhat less positive. All five "Agreed" that the collaboration resulted in greater capacity to provide family services (mean= 3.0) and being better able to provide parents and families with additional resources and service (mean= 3.0). One administrator "Strongly Agreed" that As a result of the collaboration my school has increased resources (mean= 3.0), but one "Disagreed." Four out of five administrators also "Agreed" that the collaboration resulted in benefits for children not eligible for UAMS Head Start Enhanced Services (mean= 2.8).

Teachers were asked ten additional questions about the provision of specific services provided by the Head Start Enhanced Services program. These services were Body Mass Index Assessment, Hearing Screening, Vision Screening, Dental Exams, Dental Services, Immunization, Nutrition, Outreach to Parents, and Better Parent Referrals. With a single exception to the item Outreach to Parents, all of the teachers agreed that their ability to provide these services increased as a result of the collaboration. The mean of means for all ten items was 3.75, and the individual service means ranged from 3.6 for Body Mass Index Assessment and Outreach to Parents to 3.8 for Hearing Screening, Vision Screening, Dental Exams, and Immunization. The results for the individual service questions are presented in Table 3.

Teachers and administrators were also asked to answer three open-ended questions about the collaboration with UAMS Head Start. Responses to these questions were consistent between the three teachers and four administrators. When asked: How has UAMS Head Start Enhanced Services helped your program? Six of the seven mentioned that the provision of services not otherwise available was helpful to their program. One administrator cited the fact that the children start in the (LRSD) school and continue on through elementary school as being most helpful.

Respondents were then asked: Of the services provided through UAMS Head Start, which do you feel have been the most valuable for your school / children? Again, there was a fair amount of consistency. Four of the six respondents said that dental services were most valuable, while one mentioned health services. Eye screenings and assistance with immunizations were also mentioned. One administrator stated that the most valuable service was "providing learning opportunities they would not have had at home."

Finally, teachers and administrators were asked: How could UAMS Head Start Enhanced Services better serve your program? While less detailed, these responses were perhaps most telling. Only one respondent provided a substantive recommendation: assistance with the "physical" requirement. The other six either responded "nothing" (three) or that UAMS Head Start continues to work with their school.

From the perspective of program leadership, the Enhanced Services collaboration has been a success. The two agencies benefit from increased access to funding, they are able to share skills, ideas and abilities and benefit from joint staff development activities. Together, they are able to serve more children and families and avoid duplication of efforts. Finally, the service each provides is enhanced by the other (McKinney & Nugent, 2008). The respective program directors identified two key factors that contributed to the success of the collaboration. The first is a high level of communication between the two agencies. From the planning stages on through implementation, participants attended regular meeting with detailed agendas kept participants informed and provided forums for discussion. This ensured that the program remained "on track." Second, the participating agencies had clear, common goals. Both agencies had the goal of ensuring that the needs of the children were being met. Keeping that key goal in mind made it possible for the agencies to avoid competition and share strategies for meeting that goal.

Consistent with the literature (Sowa, 2008), the biggest challenge for the collaboration was the policy constraints on each agency. It was difficult at times to navigate the strict guidelines, particularly those of Head Start for both the school district and the Head Start program. Again, communication proved to be key; all program personnel attended informational meetings that clarified their respective roles and responsibilities in implementing both programs' requirements.

Other challenges included issues of accountability and parent confusion as to the Head Start Enhanced Services program's role in assisting them and their children. Accountability was maintained by keeping more consistent and detailed records of program personnel activities. Outreach to parents was enhanced by increasing prekindergarten teachers' understanding of the enhanced services. This allowed them to effectively assist in referring students to Head Start and with outreach to parents. Both directors said that they would be willing to engage in similar collaborations in the future.


When we look at this case study in light of the previously reviewed literature, a number of observations can be made. First, the Enhanced Services program capitalized on the very strengths that previous research attributes to the respective programs. Classroom instruction, or responsibility for achieving positive cognitive outcomes, is administered by the highly qualified LRSD teaching staff through a state adopted curriculum that focuses on the skills needed to prepare children for kindergarten. Head Start, for its part, provides the comprehensive health, nutrition, and other social services for which Head Start has long been recognized. As the state-funded preschool program has grown exponentially in recent years, UAMS has seized this as an opportunity to better serve their clientele, rather than view it as an invasion of their "turf."

From a collaboration standpoint, there are some surprising observations. Both public schools in general and Head Start in particular, are presumed to be unreceptive to the idea of collaboration, particularly with agencies as structured as their own. Yet, these two programs have not only forged a truly integrated program, but have reached out to other potential partners in the community.

Considering these findings in light of the best practices identified by Johnson, et al. (2003), the Enhanced Services collaboration did take steps to ensure commitment, effective communication, and strong leadership (2003). In the planning phase, potential principal and teacher participants were presented with the expected benefits and responsibilities of the collaboration. This helped to ensure that there was buy-in prior to implementation. Once participants were selected, and advisory committee was created to make sure that the collaboration continued to reflect the needs and concerns of the participants. Results of the participant survey indicated that the participants, by and large, understood and felt a part of the collaboration efforts. Administrators were less likely to feel involved with the implementation of the program. It is unclear, however, if this is due more to the nature of the services provided than to feelings of exclusion.

During the pre-planning and planning stages, efforts were made to insure inclusion of potential stakeholders. The inclusion of parents, however, was quite limited. The program might be better served by more parental participation in the planning stages. Monthly meetings incorporated into the program plan served keep the lines of communication open, though some reported that they met with their contact person more frequently. Teachers and administrators generally felt that they had good communication with their Head Start partners, but this perception was not universal. Given the importance placed on communication in virtually all of the literature on interagency collaboration, efforts should be made to address the few concerns that exist.

The program leadership was highly involved in the planning process, and continued that level of involvement throughout the implementation. Not only were the Head Start and Early Childhood Directors involved, but the Head Start Governing Board, UAMS Chancellor, and the Little Rock superintendent were also involved. This not only served as an indication of the two agencies' commitment. It also meant that the leadership included individuals that had the substantive power to make decisions and allocate resources. Overall, the success of this collaboration may be best illustrated by the partner survey. All of teachers and administrators who responded to the question "How could UAMS Head Start Enhanced Services better serve your program?" essentially responded that the program should continue to serve their school.

Based on the preceding discussion, there are a number or recommendations for agencies considering similar collaborations. First, participants need to have common goals. As one director put it "you need to know what you want, and what you have to offer." Second, the agency needs to have mechanisms in place to ensure regular, open communication. Many of the challenges faced by the UAMS Head Start-Little Rock School District Enhanced Services program were overcome by regular meetings that included all involved personnel. Third, make sure there is commitment from all levels of the participating organizations. In this case, there was strong buy-in from the executive director level down to teachers and staff. Finally, organizations that wish to collaborate should maximize their respective strengths. UAMS Head Start and the Little Rock School District each brought something to the table that the other could benefit from. By each focusing on what they did best, they were able to increase capacity without dramatically increasing costs. In the end, this allowed the partners to more efficiently and effectively serve the children in the community.

In order to fully measure the success of this collaboration, however, more research is needed. First, the perceptions of additional stakeholders, especially parents, will provide perspective on how the collaboration has affected the individuals who are most directly affected. Second, an analysis of the child outcomes of these enhanced services is necessary to truly measure success. One proposal is to compare readiness for kindergarten, health, and emotional outcomes of children in the traditional Head Start and prekindergarten programs with those participating in the enhanced services program. Only then will we have a clear idea of the collaboration's impact on the service community.

Overall, the participants in UAMS Head Start-Little Rock School District Enhanced Services program have found the collaboration program to be a success. They cite shared skills, increased funding capacity, and more inclusive, comprehensive services to children and families as the greatest benefits of the partnership. Since they started working together, the partners have expanded the collaboration, reaching out other school districts and early childhood service providers. While the arrangement between UAMS Head Start and the Little Rock School District is still relatively new, it serves as an example of what is possible when two agencies choose to work together toward a common goal rather than work at cross purposes.


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University of Memphis

Sharon L. Wrobel is an assistant professor of public administration at the University of Memphis, where she also serves as Graduate Coordinator. Her research interests include education administration, policy, equity, and finance, program evaluation, and policy analysis.
Table 1

As part of the collaboration with UAMS Head Start
Enhanced Services:

I understand the purpose of the Enhanced Services Program

                 Strongly                      Strongly
                 Agree      Agree   Disagree   Disagree   N    Mean

Teachers         8          2       0          1          11   3.5

Administrators   2          3       0          0          5    3.6

I am involved in the implementation of Enhanced Services

                 Strongly                      Strongly
                 Agree      Agree   Disagree   Disagree   N    Mean

Teachers         4          5       0          1          10   3.2

Administrators   0          3       2          0          5    2.6

I have good communication within my school regarding the
collaboration with UAMS Head Start

                 Strongly                      Strongly
                 Agree      Agree   Disagree   Disagree   N    Mean

Teachers         5          3       1          1          10   3.2

Administrators   1          3       1          0          5    3

I have good communication with UAMS Head Start regarding
the collaboration

                 Strongly                      Strongly
                 Agree      Agree   Disagree   Disagree   N    Mean

Teachers         5          3       1          1          10   3.2

Administrators   2          3       0          0          5    3.4

Table 2

As a result of the collaboration with UAMS He ad
Start Enhanced Services:

My school has greater capacity to provide family services

                 Strongly                      Strongly
                 Agree      Agree   Disagree   Disagree   N    Mean

Teachers         7          1       0          2          10   3.3

Administrators   0          5       0          0          5    3.0

My school is better able to provide parents and families with
additional resources and services

                 Strongly                      Strongly
                 Agree      Agree   Disagree   Disagree   N    Mean

Teachers         7          1       0          2          10   3.3

Administrators   0          5       0          0          5    3.0

My school has increased resources

                 Strongly                      Strongly
                 Agree      Agree   Disagree   Disagree   N    Mean

Teachers         7          1       1          1          10   3.4

Administrators   1          3       1          0          5    3.0

There are benefits for children not eligible for UAMS Head
Start Enhanced Services

                 Strongly                      Strongly
                 Agree      Agree   Disagree   Disagree   N    Mean

Teachers         7          1       0          2          10   3.3

Administrators   0          4       1          0          5    2.8

Table 3

As a result of the collabora tion with UAMS Head Start
Enhanced Services:

                  Strongly                      Strongly
                   Agree     Agree   Disagree   Disagree   N   Mean

BMI Assessment       5         3        0          0       8   3.6
and Results

Hearing              7         2        0          0       9   3.8

Vision               7         2        0          0       9   3.8

Dental Exams         7         2        0          0       9   3.8

Dental               6         2        0          0       8   3.8

Immunization         7         2        0          0       9   3 8
Support                                                        3.8

Nutritional          7         2        0          0       9   3.8

Mental Health        6         3        0          0       9   3.7

Improved/            6         2        1          0       9   3.6
outreach to          5         1        0          0       9   3.7
parents I am
better able to
provide parent
referrals to
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