Head Start is a federally funded, comprehensive child development and school readiness program designed to provide an educational head start to children from age three through the year before they begin kindergarten. The program is operated by the Abilene Independent School District and governed by the AISD School Board and the Parent Policy Council. The federal government provides funding exceeding $2,500,000 per year for the program, while the AISD provides many services in-kind, including the buildings and maintenance. Federal law mandates that 20% of the program's funding must be received through in-kind donations from the school district and community. Head Start began nationwide in 1965, with the Abilene program opening the same year as a delegate agency. Abilene ISD became the direct Head Start grantee in 2012. The Abilene ISD Head Start program has been recognized as an exemplary Head Start program.
To qualify for the program, children must meet one of the following eligibility criteria: family income at or below the federal poverty level income guidelines, be homeless as defined by the McKinney-Vento Act, be a foster child, receive SSI or TANF, or must have a professionally diagnosed disability. Current funding provides places for 380 children per year. At least 10% of the enrollment slots are reserved for children with disabilities. Children must be four-years-old as of September 1st of the school year that they enroll in center-based Head Start. Up to 51 spaces are reserved for three-year-olds, including those with disabilities, and children transitioning from the Early Head Start program.
The Head Start curriculum follows the Revised Head Start Child Outcomes Framework, the Texas Pre-K Curriculum Guidelines, and NAEYC developmentally appropriate practices. The curriculum stresses school readiness with a focus on language development, mathematics, emergent literacy, phonemic awareness, and social-emotional development. Children and families in Head Start receive comprehensive services that include health, dental, nutritional, mental health, educational, disabilities, parent involvement, and family services as a part of the Federal guidelines. In addition to classroom responsibilities, each Head Start teacher must adhere to Federal performance standards which include making two home visits per year to each student's home, a minimum of two parent conferences, and the inclusion of multi-cultural, mental health, positive self esteem, dental health, safety, and nutrition activities in the school readiness curriculum.