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 About the Hackathon  

Join us for two highly interactive days of inspiration, ideation, and experimentation, and work with 50 of the most passionate members of the Head Start community to shape Head Start’s future!


From May 14th to 15th, 2016, NHSA is hosting a two-day, invitation-only Head Start Hackathon on the eve of our 43rd Annual National Head Start Conference and Expo at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee. This is our first ever hackathon and part of our ongoing effort to tap the passion, expertise and creativity of the Head Start community in exploring innovative ways to:

  • enhance, deliver, and communicate Head Start’s value;
  • foster our community and knowledge exchange; and
  • connect with existing and new audiences in meaningful ways.

Participants, including a diverse group of Head Start program directors, teachers, parents, alumni, donors and experts, as well as federal and state-level government representatives, will form interdisciplinary teams to tackle a number of strategic challenges through collective learning, debate, games and workshops. At the end of the hackathon, each group will present its ideas and solutions to a panel of distinguished judges who will present prizes to the winning teams. NHSA will then share the outcomes of the hackathon with its broader community and the public, and begin a process of refining and implementing the three winning ideas.

What is a hackathon?

The term “hackathon” was originally used for collaborative computer programming sessions and is inspired by the meaning of “hacking” as a way to tinker with and tweak systems—not necessarily technological—so as to creatively overcome constraints and limitations. A hackathon is an event of any duration where people come together to tackle a specific challenge in the spirit of creative problem solving. It can also be describedas a marathon brainstorming session in which participants typically form teams of about 3-5 individuals and compete for prizes. After presented with the key problem to tackle, they take out their laptops, post-its, pencils and paper—and whatever else is needed—and dive right in.

While the Head Start Hackathon will adopt the basic principles of a traditional hackathon, participants won’t be asked to code or deliver software concepts or prototypes as final deliverables. Rather, they will present ideas, concepts, or proposals for initiatives, campaigns, products/services and other activities and programs that will serve NHSA’s stated goals with this hackathon.

It will be a highly interactive, intense, and fun two days!

More general info on hackathons can be found here:

The Process

Participants include an eclectic mix of Head Start program directors, teachers, parents, alumni, federal and state-level government representatives, donors, experts, and NHSA staff. They will form interdisciplinary teams to tackle key strategic challenges through collective learning, debate, play, and—most importantly—hands-on work. At the end of the hackathon, each group will present its ideas and solutions to a panel of distinguished judges who will present the winning teams with a prize. NHSA will then share the outcomes of the hackathon and begin a process of refining and implementing the most promising ideas.


More details will be shared soon. In the meantime, please email Mary Sprute at for more information.


 The Agenda  

Day 1

May 14th, 2016

Doors will open at  8 am  , and breakfast will be served.

We will then kick off the event with a welcome by NHSA Executive Director Yasmina Vinci at  8:30 am  as well as a couple of “fire starter talks” to inspire the participants, frame the conversation and get everyone into the right mindset for the day. Then the facilitators will introduce themselves and the judges, and present the judging criteria, “ground rules” and the agenda for the two days.

Furthermore, the facilitators will present 3-5 Work Streams and 10 or more specific Challenges on which the Hackathon teams can decide to focus. Based on their interest in these topics, participants will self-select into teams of 5 members each. Teams can also form independently and then come up with their own Challenge they want to tackle, as long as that Challenge falls within one of the Work Streams.

The teams will be given a number of optional assignments and tools (e.g., field research, etc.) to catalyze the ideation and collaboration process, while also having ample freedom to design their activities for the day themselves.

Lunch will be served at  noon .

In the afternoon of and toward the end of Day 1, we will convene two “town halls” for a rapid-fire exchange on ideas and insights that are emerging between the teams. There will also be an opportunity for the teams to get some preliminary feedback from the judges (“Judges Hour”).

Moreover, the facilitators will move from team to team to provide guidance, answer questions and check in with the teams throughout the day.

The session ends at  5 pm , and all participants are invited to a Happy Hour from  5 to 7 pm  to celebrate the work of the day.


Day 2

May 15th, 2016

Doors will open at  8 am , and breakfast will be served.

At  8:30 am , Yasmina Vinci will kick us off again and review some of the highlights from Day 1. Then the teams will continue their work.

Around  lunch time , we will convene a final “town hall” at which the facilitators will brief all teams on how to prepare for their final presentation.

From  2 – 4 pm , the teams will share their final work product (manifesto, collage, product pitch, video, report, point-of-view or something entirely different) in a 10 min. presentation on the main stage with all participants, the judges and the public (the final session is open to the public).

Judges will review the presentations and, based on the judging criteria, award the 3 winning teams with a prize. The hackathon ends at  4 pm  .


 Panel of Judges  

Donna Kelley

Donna Kelley has built innovative products and services for vocational and academic learners for more than 20 years. She has been on the founding exec teams of startups and enterprise innovation labs, including iGeneration, Apollo Lightspeed, and SkilledUp. She is now working with Adobe, looking at how to use live streaming and social games to scale the power of human connection for education and creativity.

Nick de la Mare

Nick de la Mare is a Principal and co-founder at Big Tomorrow, a San Francisco, CA and Austin, TX based multi-disciplinary design firm specializing in the creation of paradigm-shifting experiences and services that bridge the digital and physical worlds. With nearly 20 years of experience, he has been fortunate to create innovative user-centered products, services and experiences for clients such as Hyatt, University of Texas and Disney.

Sara Mead

Sara Mead is a partner with Bellwether Education Partners in the Policy and Thought Leadership practice and leads Bellwether’s early childhood work across multiple service areas. Since joining Bellwether in 2010, she has written and conducted policy analysis on early childhood education, charter schools, teacher quality, and state and federal education policy issues and has provided strategic advising support to foundations, advocacy organizations, and early childhood operators.

Lee Carter

After a crushing loss in a student council race in the 6th grade, Lee learned the importance of getting the story right from the beginning. In the 7th grade, when she ran again, she ran on a story that was driven by some middle school polling techniques she employed among her classmates. And, she won. Ever since she has had a passion for language. And she brings this passion to her role as partner at m+p, a research-driven language strategy firm that specializes in finding the right language and messages based on one simple idea: it’s not what you say that matters, it’s what they hear.

Linda Smith

Linda K. Smith is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood Development for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In this role she provides overall policy coordination for the Head Start and Early Head Start Program and the Child Care and Development Fund, as well as serving as the liaison with the U.S. Department of Education and other federal agencies. Her office serves as a focal point for early childhood policy at the federal level.


 Frequently Asked Questions  


How did you select the 50 participants?

We selected participants to represent a diverse cross-section of thinkers and doers from the Head Start community. We are thrilled to have such a distinguished group attend, including Head Start program directors, teachers, parents, alumni, donors and experts, as well as federal and state-level government representatives. We are also holding several spots open for public applications.

Can you share the participant list?

If you are a participant, you may request the participant list by emailing Mary Sprute at

What's the dress code?

We recommend casual clothing and comfortable shoes for the day.

Will there be food and beverages?

We will offer a breakfast and lunch buffet on both days. Beverages and snacks will be available throughout the day.


Media and Social Media

Is there a social media hashtag?

Yes, the hashtag is:  #HeadStartHackathon 

What can I share via social media?

While the hackathon is a private event, we principally encourage social media sharing. All of the firestarter talks are ok to cover. However, we ask you to please follow the Chatham House rule for your teams: you may share quotes and pictures, but please don’t attribute any quotes without first asking the person for permission. A good rule of thumb is to generally not attribute any statements to a person and rather tweet or post them “blindly.”

Will Press be Present?

We have invited select reporters from national media to attend and cover the event, however, the same Chatham House Rule restrictions apply to them.

What happens with the content generated at the workshop?

Photos and videos of the event will be posted to and the NHSA web site. Interviews and blog posts with some participants will also be added to the site.

A report with highlights and key outcomes will be shared with all participants and posted to the NHSA web site in the weeks after the event.

We will promote all these materials to press and via social media in order to extend the conversation towards the broader Head Start community and beyond.


 Venue and Accomodations  

Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center

2800 Opryland Drive
Nashville, TN

The Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center is also the venue for the National Head Start Conference and Expo that will take place right after the hackathon.

Participants are encouraged to book their hotel rooms at the Gaylord Opryland Spa and Resort during the hackathon.