Youth enrolled in Neighborhood House's Head Start preschool this fall are benefiting from a program that received a spotless report card from the federal government.
Neighborhood House's Head Start and Early Head Start programs received a perfect score in a federal review conducted earlier this year, putting it in an elite group. Of those monitored over the past year, only 9 percent nationwide were found to be in total compliance, according to a federal spokeswoman.
One of only three programs to get a perfect score in the four-state region, which encompasses Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Idaho.
"It's pretty phenomenal to get a perfect review," said Kathee Richter, child development director at Neighborhood House. "We're held accountable for more than 1,700 performance standards."
Head Start is a federal program that provides comprehensive services for low-income and disabled children and their families, including preschool, child development, nutrition, health and family support. Parents receive training in how to help their children develop and learn, and are linked with community services and resources that meet their needs.
Neighborhood House's Head Start program serves 172 children, ages 3 to 5, at four Seattle public housing communities: Rainier Vista, New Holly, Yesler Terrace and High Point. Its Early Head Start home-visiting program serves 74 children, aged 3 and younger, as well as pregnant women and families.
Ninety percent are refugee or immigrant families, representing 14 different cultures, Richter said. Nearly all of the families are at or below the federal poverty level.
Seattle-based Neighborhood House has been offering Head Start for more than 35 years. The 101-year-old, nonprofit organization is dedicated to advancing self-sufficiency for low-income, immigrant and refugee families, most of them living in and around King County's major public housing projects.
Richter said federal reviews are done every three years. Over the course of a week, a team of reviewers conduct interviews and monitor different aspects of the program, including early childhood education, health, safety, disability services, family services, program design and management of the $2.3 million budget.
Three years ago, Neighborhood House's Head Start program had only one "not-too- serious" negative finding, Richter said.
The average number of findings is four among Head Start programs in the region. The most common deficiencies nationwide are in the areas of finance and record-keeping.
Richter said Neighborhood House staff and leadership have worked hard over the last 10 years to get the program to where it is today. Leaders toured other programs, hired experienced staff, provide training and created new support systems.
The perfect score doesn't mean Head Start staff won't continue to strive for improvements Richter said.
"We know our program isn't perfect. There are always things to improve. But it's nice to know that we're 100 percent in compliance."