Program of Excellence - White Logo

NHSA's Program of Excellence Accreditation recognizes and supports the outstanding performance of Head Start grant recipients across the country. This designation is earned by 25 programs each year that consistently demonstrate excellence in program management and service performance and continually support the achievement of robust outcomes for children birth to five years old, pregnant people, families, and the communities where they live.

NHSA's Indicators of Excellence

NHSA defines the mark of quality with a 44-part framework known as the 44 Indicators of Excellence, which:

  • reflect established performance criteria;
  • extract evidence of the ways your program goes beyond the Head Start Program Performance Standards; and
  • describe the best and most effective practices for motivating and helping programs make lasting improvements in their services to children and families.

Head Start program applicants who successfully complete the application will earn the Program of Excellence Accreditation.

Register for the 2025 Cohort

Programs will have three months to complete the accreditation application process including attending online meetings which begins in March 2025.

A $3,500 application fee is due upon registration.

Download the Indicators of Excellence

By filling out this form, you will receive a sample set of indicators. This form is not the application or registration for the Program of Excellence Accreditation.

Program of Excellence Spotlights

Program of Excellence: Children First

Children First is a long-standing Head Start Program of Excellence, holding the title for more than two decades.

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Program of Excellence: CAPSLO

Migrant and Seasonal program CAPSLO’s commitment to quality is reflected in their designation as a Program of Excellence awarded in 2016.

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Program of Excellence: Hillsborough County Head Start/Early Head Start

Hillsborough County Head Start/Early Head Start has been an NHSA Program of Excellence for more than two decades.

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What the Accreditation Means

The three-month application process gives programs an opportunity to showcase all the facets of their operation:

effective and efficient management
transparent and sound fiscal stewardship
informed, responsible, and responsive program governance
highly experienced and educated staff
genuine partnering with and involvement of parents in all aspects of the program
state-of-the-art programming
quality services that reflect and respond to the aspirations and needs of children and families

Programs of Excellence continuously strive to improve their performance; build on and exceed goals and achievements; recognize, reward, support, and celebrate staff; and meet children, families, and communities with tailored programming and services.

Benefits of Participation

The application process prepares programs for Head Start monitoring protocols through alignment with HSPS standards and entitles programs to:

  • A thorough organizational evaluation, designed specifically for Head Start.
  • Identification of strengths and coaching in areas for continuous improvement.
  • Announcement of accreditation sent by NHSA to your senators, representatives, and state governor.
  • Recognition and features at NHSA’s National Head Start Conference and in NHSA publications, including a spotlight story, access to a marketing toolkit, and assistance to tell your story in the media.
  • Use of the NHSA Program of Excellence Accreditation logo, a nationally recognized mark of distinction in the Head Start field.
  • Entrance into a community of the best and most innovative educational programs across the country, as well as a forum for leaders to share their ideas and accomplishments.

2023 Programs

  • Family Resource Agency of Tennessee, Cleveland, TN
  • Community Action Council, Lexington, KY
  • Neighborhood House Association Head Start, San Diego, CA
  • Porter-Leath Early Head Start, Memphis, TN
  • Miami-Dade Community Action and Human Services, Miami, FL
  • Mississippi Action for Progress, Inc., Jackson, MS
  • Family Resource Agency of North Georgia HS/EHS/Pre-K, Rossville, GA
  • Community Action Agency, Jackson, MI
  • Foundation For Early Childhood Education, Pasadena, CA
  • Capital Area Community Services Head Start, Lansing, MI
  • Brightpoint Head Start , Fort Wayne, IN

2022 Programs

  • Children’s Friend Head Start Providence, RI
  • Community Services For Children Head Start/Early Head Start of the Lehigh Valley Allentown, PA
  • East Bay Community Action Program Head Start Newport, RI
  • Hillsborough County  Board of County Commissioners Head Start/Early Head Start Program Tampa, FL
  • Maui Family Support Services Inc. Early Head Start Wailuku, HI
  • Mercer County Head Start Celina, OH
  • Mohawk Valley Community Action Agency Inc. Child Development Program Utica, NY
  • Murray Head Start Murray, KY
  • New St. Paul Head Start Agency Detroit, MI
  • Parents In Community Action Minneapolis, MN
  • Tri-Valley Opportunity Council Head Start, Child & Family Programs Crookston, MN
  • United Community Action Partnership Cosmos, MN
  • YWCA Metro St. Louis Early Education Program St. Louis, MO

Children First, Inc.

Founded by the Junior League in 1961, Children First, Inc., proudly operates a total of 13 sites strategically located in Sarasota County, Florida serving 216 Early Head Start children and pregnant people and 312 Head Start children as well as children in our Early Childhood Education Program in Florida’s Voluntary Pre-kindergarten program, and state scholarship or private pay, blending services while providing the comprehensive Head Start model to all.

Areas of Innovation: Nurturing Dads Initiative, Families First Institute, Mental Wellness Support Program, Take Stock in Children First, Raise Your Hand Campaign, numerous community partnerships and a strong and involved Board of Directors.

In their own words: "Our mission reflects our underlying aspiration for the successful achievement of Head Start and Early Head Start goals and objectives and our main priority of kindergarten readiness for all children and self-sufficiency for the families we serve."

Designation Term: 2016-2021

CAPSLO Migrant & Seasonal Head Start

The Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program of Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County serves approximately 2,500 children and their families annually in nine California counties.

Areas of Innovation: family child care; parent, family, and community engagement; gardening and natural play; professional development for parents, staff, and community partners; and technology-based training, resources, and tools.

In their own words: "The Quality Initiative has helped our programs focus on our achievements, where we are, and where we wish to go. It has also helped us craft descriptions of various program components, which we now use in program brochures and other promotional tools… Lastly, MSHS staff has taken pride that they are part of an excellent program, and this has assisted with maintaining a high level of morale."

Designation Term: 2016-2021

Salt Lake CAP Head Start

Salt Lake CAP Head Start draws on its strengths and connections in the community to act more like a business to generate revenue. With federal Head Start budget cuts looming and fewer consistent donors, our director began to strategize ways to diversify funding streams, leverage new funders, and create sustainable sources of unrestricted revenue. Erin built relationships with the private sector, hired experienced and capable staff, and challenged herself and the community to collaborate in the interest of building sustainable and innovative solutions to poverty and hunger that would promise a strong return on investment.

In their own words: "Salt Lake CAP Head Start applied for the QI because management and staff believe it is important to run a top-notch agency at all times. Children living in poverty should be able to receive the best services they can and SLCAP Head Start prides ourselves on being innovative, creative, fiscally responsible, and a high functioning agency."

Designation Term: 2016-2021

Head Start of Greater Dallas

Head Start of Greater Dallas (HSGD) began in 1968 and currently serves 4,152 Head Start and Early Head Start children and their families at 46 centers located throughout low-income areas of Dallas County at stand-alone centers, ISDs, childcare partners and delegates.

In their own words: "Our focus is a shared vision and goal of providing high quality school readiness outcomes for children and family self-sufficiency. Head Start of Greater Dallas, Inc. offers children a rich learning environment that promotes growth in all domains. Further the curriculum is enhanced with science, technology, engineering and math as well as programming for dual language learners."

Designation Term: 2016-2021

Mid Florida Community Services Head Start

Mid Florida Community Services (MFCS) Head Start is proud to serve 977 children and their families through center-based services in three counties in central Florida. By ensuring all teachers are bachelor degreed and have been trained in “Making the Most of Classroom Interactions” (MMCI), Mid Florida Community Services’ CLASS scores have consistently exceeded the national average.  Their partnership with a local school district to provide blended classrooms, staffed by Head Start and the LEA, have further ensured that strong support services are provided for children with disabilities.

MFCS works closely with local higher education institutions to enhance services in their program, while also providing practical experiences for the university students. This has allowed MFCS to implement a number of innovative initiatives such as, school gardens with the University of Florida extension office, Arts on the Grow with the Museum of Art, and collaborations with the local health department.

Designation Term: 2016-2021

Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners Head Start/Early Head Start

The Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) Head Start/Early Head Start currently serve 3,107 three- and four-year-olds and 343 infants and toddlers through its 19 Hillsborough County operated centers, 4 contracted centers, and 3 delegate agencies. The program is one of the largest in the Southeastern United States and operates a full-day/full-year program for families who are either working a minimum of 20 hours per week, in school, or job training.

Designation Term: 2016-2021

Parents In Community Action

Founded by concerned parents in 1969, Parents In Community Action, Inc. (PICA) is a private, nonprofit agency that operates Head Start and Early Head Start programs in Hennepin County, Minnesota, and provides a wide range of other early childhood and family development services for young children and their families living at or below the federal poverty level.

As the largest provider of Head Start and Early Head Start services in the state of Minnesota, PICA serves over 2,600 low-income children and their families in 12 state-of-the-art early childhood centers located throughout Hennepin County. An NHSA Program of Excellence since 1999, PICA has been recognized nationally for its locally designed program options, its successful in-house parent training programs, and its model of inter-agency collaboration.

Designation Term: 2016-2021

Community Services for Children Head Start/Early Head Start of the Lehigh Valley

Community Services for Children Head Start and Early Head Start of the Lehigh Valley serves 1,240 children and their families in center-based and home-based settings.

Areas of Innovation: STEM Demonstration Classroom, Literacy Technology Labs, Natural Learning and Arts Integration, and University Research Grants.

Designation Term: 2015-2020

Lutheran Services Florida Pinellas Head Start

Lutheran Services Florida Pinellas Head Start/Early Head Start serves 1,600 children and families in Pinellas County, FL. The program has strong leadership and is intentional about measuring their performance and using data to inform and drive program improvements. Effective mentor coaching and training and support program’s for parents are also embedded into program practices.

Designation Term: 2015-2020