Options for Full-Day Services for Children Participating in Head Start . Program Staffing


Staffing is one of the most challenging aspects of the full- day Head Start program. Child/staff ratios for preschool classrooms are kept at 8:1 (lower than Head Start's prescribed ratio of 10:1, because children with disabilities comprise 25 to 30 percent of the enrollment). The center's Head Start staff of seven full-time and two part-time teachers13 (all with CDA or equivalent degrees) work in teams of two (and sometimes three, at peak attendance hours) to staff the three preschool classrooms (two full-day and one morning-only classroom); it takes four staff to cover the day in a full-day preschool classroom. No teacher spends more than six and one-half hours in the classroom per day; the other hour and one-half is reserved for planning time or for home visits. Two part-time "morning-only" teachers cover the hours before 8 a.m and then, once they are relieved by full-time staff, fill in for the teachers in other classrooms, so that those teachers can have their planning time. Classroom staff are supplemented by volunteer university students who are obtaining their degrees in early childhood education, and by a number of volunteer "foster grandparents." Two full-time equivalent (FTE) university students on "work-study" scholarships serve as teaching aides. The education coordinator noted that if she needs more staff, she finds it relatively easy to obtain more volunteers, because of the program's university affiliation.

The full-day program, however, is constantly challenged by the fact that no one teacher is in the classroom all day long, causing teacher "ownership" of the classroom to suffer. In addition, staff worry about the consistency of caregiving for the children, since those who stay for 10 hours often see 4 or 5 different teachers a day. However, the education coordinator feels that the children are less affected by this than they would be if they had to change classrooms during the day. Whenever possible, she tries to minimize disruption for the children by scheduling staff changes during nap times.

In addition, full-day care makes it difficult to release staff for planning time, home visits, and training. Teachers must complete their home visits during their planning time or during their evening free time. Two teachers said they were comfortable performing home visits during some of their planning time, since, as experienced teachers, they felt they did not need all of their planning hours to prepare for class. Parents who are students at the university also are provided the option of receiving their home visits in the center during staff planning times.

Nonetheless, more than 50 percent of the home visits must take place in the evenings, because most parents work or attend school during the day. Monthly staff meetings and training sessions also are held at night. Insofar as she is able, without losing appropriate staff coverage, the education coordinator tries to give teachers "compensatory time" for the evening hours they work, but teachers still end up donating free time to the program.