Preparing for Unexpected Questions during the Federal Review
Federal reviews began to be conducted again January 4th, since that time Heartland has supported four different programs undergoing their Focus Area 1 and Focus Area 2 reviews. One thing we have noticed is the increased focus on data and the integration of content areas. Below is a brief overview of the process that may be helpful for programs that will be in review this year.
Overview of the Federal Review Process: You will receive a notice 45 days before your review that specifies the week of your review. It will also include the name of your reviewers and some additional documents that you must submit (a program enrollment roster for eligibility file sampling, staff qualifications chart and roster, fiscal documents, evidence of lead-free facilities, etc.). The review schedule will include discussions with the management team, touchpoints with the program director each day and data tours or presentations (depending on whether you are completing a Focus Area 1 or Focus Area 2 review). Typically, the review team will observe 10 classrooms and will conduct file reviews for at least 10% of children. The review will end with a final meeting on the last day to debrief. If you would like to see a sample review schedule, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions and Documents: The initial questions are included on the Focus Area 1 and Focus Area 2 protocols. The first thing you can do to get ahead of the process is determine who will sit in the interviews for each content area. Also, identify the governing body members you will call on to participate. By identifying these individuals early in the process, you can provide targeted training over the next 45 days.
Study and prepare using the protocol. However, one thing to consider is the protocol does not really indicate who will be asked questions. For example, this year the questions related to Effective and Intentional Teaching Practices were only asked to teachers during the classroom visits. So, make sure to prep direct staff as well because these questions can be difficult for anyone to answer. For example, teachers will be asked to explain the process for individualization of the curriculum. To demonstrate they understand the performance standards related to this question, your teachers will need to reference the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework, the state Early Learning Standards and other information that connects individualization to the child’s and the program’s school readiness goals. However, does the protocol say this is what you need to do? Nope.
Also, questions such as “how often do you see your coach?”, “how to you promote critical thinking in the classroom?”, “how are maintenance issues addressed?”, and “how are you doing dental health without toothbrushing?” were also asked. The secret to having strong federal reviews is understanding, articulating, and demonstrating how everything you do links back to the Head Start Program Performance Standards and your program goals and outcomes for children. Even the most experienced staff need preparation with this aspect of the review process.
Other questions that were asked that were not included in the protocol included questions related to how services were adapted for the pandemic and which strategies programs will be retaining, staffing questions related to recruitment and retention, family service questions related to the focus areas of the goals for families, and how your community assessment matches program options. The most challenging aspect of documentation that we have heard from our clients is that the review period is the last six months of 2020 and the first six months of 2021, so it takes some adjusting to pull reports from two fiscal years.
We know that even for highly effective programs, the federal review process can be a challenging experience and are here to provide you with the information you need to make your program shine. If you are interested in our review preparation services, please reach out.