Why I’m Going to Head Start

As many of you know, I recently transitioned to a new position as Senior Vice President for Early Learning, Research and Training at Acelero Learning and will no longer be co-director of NIEER. I’ve loved my job at NIEER – the research has been interesting and my colleagues here and elsewhere have been a pleasure and inspiration. I am especially grateful to the Pew Charitable Trusts for the funding that has formed the foundation for NIEER’s work. My reasons for moving on are numerous but I wanted to take this opportunity to explain why I decided to move to Head Start. Acelero Learning is a Head Start grantee that works with delegate agencies in three states to deliver services to children and families. At the Support Center in Harlem we provide the delegates with technical assistance and guidance across all areas of Head Start services.

Why Head Start?

I started my career in early education in Head Start teaching in the Ann Arbor public schools’ Head Start classroom, but even before I knew what career I wanted I worked as a Head Start summer volunteer in high school. I have since served on Head Start boards off and on and I have a firm belief that Head Start can make a significant difference in the lives of young children and their families. It has worked in the past, and it works in certain places now. As a nation, we have to figure out how to make it work everywhere, consistently, while protecting and even expanding the funding required for Head Start to be effective. I am coming home to Head Start because I want to figure out how to produce in every center the lasting impacts on achievement that I know are possible in Head Start. Of course, this means that we in Head Start must face facts and resist the temptation to reject criticism or make excuses.

Why Acelero Learning, Inc.?

Acelero is unique. We are the only for-profit Head Start provider, and outside of the municipal “super” grantees, we are one of the largest Head Start providers in the nation, serving more than 3,800 children ages zero to 5. Our mission helps explain my choice:

The mission of Acelero Learning is to bring a relentless focus on positive child and family outcomes to close the achievement gap and build a better future for children, families, and communities served by the Head Start program.

We are serious about closing the achievement gap and every decision is made in reference to this mission. We use data to drive our decisions as well and have instituted a rigorous continuous improvement system at every level of the program from child to family to classroom to center to delegate to grantee. We measure our objectives in multiple ways at each level. For example, for child progress we implement performance-based assessments and are initiating a system for ensuring reliability of scoring and we select a random sample of children for administration of pre-post assessments of standardized measures. At the classroom level, in addition to CLASS observations in every classroom, we also developed a Teacher Success Rubric for teacher self-evaluation and professional development as well as for annual performance appraisal. To increase our ability to close the achievement gap, we operate all classrooms on a year-round basis – this summer alone, we will provide more than 500,000 hours of summer learning time that children enrolled in our Head Start programs would otherwise not have been able to access. We also offer full-day Head Start and extended-day programs whenever possible.

I’m excited to be involved at Acelero with an entire network of dedicated and remarkably capable colleagues. Together we will show that Head Start is a program of which we can be proud. We are determined to close most of the gap at kindergarten entry and significantly reduce the longer-term achievement gap. I look forward to calling on many of you to help us reach our goal and best wishes to you all.

– Ellen Frede, Senior Vice President for Early Learning, Research and Training, Acelero Learning


  1. Congratulations, Ellen! I, too, was introduced to Head Start as a camp counselor in Trenton. It was the poorest section of town (Wylbur area) but I found such joy and happiness there

    – Best going forward


    Donald J. Yarosz, Ed.D.
    National Center for Children in Poverty
    125th St.
    New York, NY

    • Ellen, how exciting! Best of luck. As you work forward with Acerelo, I hope we can continue to think of ways to support Head Start in family child care settings. I look forward to working with you! ~ Sue Williamson

  2. Congratulations Ellen – You know what they say, once a head start person, always a head start person. Best of luck to you. Kudos to Acelero for grabbing you at the right time. Beverly Lynn

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