Last fall, the Office of Head Start (OHS) released Aligned Monitoring System 2.0 (AMS 2.0), a new approach to monitoring Head Start (HS) and Early Head Start (EHS) programs. This was big news, as AMS 2.0 brings a new and different approach to monitoring. Our understanding based on OHS communications last fall is that by now, any HS/EHS programs that will be receive a review in FY2018 have been notified. Whether you have a review coming up next month or next year, it’s not too soon or too late to start preparing. The new and different approach of AMS 2.0 is one that you’ll want to ensure staff are prepared to embrace so that you can showcase the strengths of your program.

AMS 2.0 is comprised of three separate types of reviews – CLASS, Focus Area One, and Focus Area Two. It’s important to understand the differences among them so that you can tailor your preparations appropriately. You’re likely most familiar with the CLASS review, and this is not different than years past. A random sample of classrooms from your program will be observed and scored by a reviewer. Those scores will continue (for now, at least) to determine participation in the Designation Renewal System (DRS).

The biggest changes to the monitoring system are with Focus Area One and Focus Area Two reviews. Focus Area One is a review that will typically take place early in your grant cycle. It is an off-site review and is largely based on reviewers reviewing your program’s data and reports. You’ll also engage with the reviewer in virtual/phone interviews to discuss topics across program areas to showcase your program design approach.

Focus Area Two reviews are on site. They’re in depth, interview-based. During a Focus Area Two review, which will typically take place in year 2 or 3 of a 5-year grant cycle, reviewers will want to see how you’re using data to drive program implementation and track progress. You’ll discuss you achieve program goals, and implement and monitor program activities. Similar to Focus Area One, the review is not linear; rather, you’ll move between program areas in an approach that looks at your program holistically.

Regardless of Focus Area One or Focus Area Two, there are five main topic areas covered in the reviews: program design and management, quality education and child development program services, quality health program services, family and community engagement services, and ERSEA strategies and fiscal infrastructure.

There is a lot you can do to prepare for an AMS 2.0 review. As with any new process, there may be some uncertainty among staff about what the AMS 2.0 review is (or isn’t) and how it’s the same or different than the monitoring reviews which HS/EHS programs are accustomed. Consider these tips:

  • File timely reports and ensure you recall and can articulate key findings, data and decisions driven by program information.
  • Leverage your program’s policies and procedures do document what you do and how you do it.
  • Use the monitoring protocol as your preparation checklist.
  • Identify areas in the monitoring protocol that are challenging to respond to and work with your team to define a response.
  • Consider the logistics of review week and communicate with staff about the review process well in advance of the visit. Provide regular updates to staff related to review process and timeline.
  • Engage staff in meaningful discussions to ensure they are prepared to participate in the monitoring review. Address any questions or concerns they might have about the process or content of interviews.

Is your program in Region 4? If you plan to attend the upcoming Region IV Annual Training Conference in Atlanta on February 5-8, 2018, we’ll see you there! Join us as we present AMS 2.0: Getting Comfortable with the New Monitoring Tool and an Approach to Preparation. In this session we’ll help you become comfortable with AMS 2.0, and particularly Focus Area Two. You’ll leave with knowledge about how to approach monitoring preparation based on AMS 2.0. Please feel free to reach out if you’ll be in Atlanta next week. It would be great to connect!

If your program has an upcoming review and you have questions about how to prepare your program and staff please be in touch. Our team at Foundations for Families is widely versed in monitoring preparation, and we would be glad to discuss approaches to help ensure readiness and a positive review experience.

Thank you.

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