Hattiesburg Pre-K collaborative supported by $2.1M state grant

By DAVID TISDALE,

Pre-K collaborative that includes the Hattiesburg Public School District is being supported by a $2.1 million grant through the Mississippi Department of Education that funds positions and programming to get participants ready to enter kindergarten on a level playing field.

The three-year grant funding got the program off the ground in the spring for preparation efforts to get it ready to launch in the 2019-2020 school year, said HPSD Director of Federal Programs and Early Childhood Education Carrie Hornsby at the district’s September Board of Trustees meeting. According to Hornsby, the grant allocates approximately $2,100 per pupil for 329 students in 18 classes; 303 are currently enrolled, but Hornsby expects the remaining slots will be filled.

The grant also funds a variety of positions, including 18 teachers and accompanying teacher assistants; an early childhood education specialist who provides professional development; an early childhood counselor; a dual language teacher; a project supervisor; and one parent educator.

Collaborative partners include Pearl River Valley Opportunity’s Forrest County Head Start (located at the former Jones Elementary School facility), along with three local early ­learning centers, who are required to meet PRVO’s federal mandates, pre-K state standards, and social-emotional curriculum guidelines for instruction on achieving “self-regulated” behavior goals.

The collaboration grant resulted from an act by the state Legislature in 2013, pushed through due in part to the efforts of former State Representative and current Hattiesburg mayor Toby Barker, along with bi-partisan support from other state officials.

“It’s going well, our teachers have put in a lot of hard work in getting the curriculum in place and training in meeting the standards for instruction for this age group,” Hornsby said.

Hornsby said the main value/goal of pre-kindergarten education is the provision of the opportunity to gain the skills students need in kindergarten. “If you’re coming in behind on skill levels, then it’s a challenge to catch up, because that train keeps moving,” she said. “Pre-K programming helps them to hit the ground running at the next level.”

*The newest member of the HPSD Board of Trustees, Eddie Holloway, was sworn in by Board Attorney Percy Watson at the beginning of the board’s regular meeting. Holloway, a product of the Hattiesburg Public School District, is a recent retiree of The University of Southern Mississippi, where in June he completed a 40-year career in its Division of Student Affairs, most recently in the role of Assistant Vice President of Students Affairs and Dean of Students.

Holloway served on the Hattiesburg City Council for 16 years, having been elected as one of its first members in 1985, and is a founding member of the Hattiesburg Public Schools Foundation. He is a 1970 graduate of L.J. Rowan High School and was recently selected as a member of the second class of the Hattiesburg Public School District Hall of Fame, which will be inducted in October.

“I’ve reflected on how much quality education means to Hattiesburg and our communities, and I pledge my efforts to help enhance our schools and the children of our district,” Holloway said.

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