Given the growing number of students in the Lamar County School District – and the number of young children who are on the waiting list for Pre-K classes – officials from the district’s board of trustees recently approved the addition of one new Pre-K classroom at Oak Grove Elementary School.
The classroom, which is made possible by funds from the district’s Early Learning Collaborative – which allows individuals and businesses to receive a 1:1 tax credit for donations until the end of the calendar year – will be able to serve 20 additional children.
“It’s huge – we have the data to show that the students here are in some type of early learning environment, and it doesn’t have to be particularly our early learning environment,” district superintendent Steven Hampton said. “But students here are involved in an early learning environment, especially in Pre-K.
“We’ve been in this for a long time, so we’ve seen those students grow and prosper, and they get a head start and they learn how to read quicker. Therefore, they can turn around and read to learn at a much faster rate, so that their achievement in school is much higher.”
In addition to the new classroom, the funds from the collaborative will be used to hire an additional teacher, a teacher assistant and new furniture.
“We’re talking about small children, so we need tables and chairs and all the equipment that is necessary to be age-appropriate for smaller, younger children,” Hampton said. “So the extra funds we have available will go to all those things … to successfully implement that class.”
The addition of the new classroom will bring to total number of Pre-K rooms at the elementary school to three. The room will be available beginning January 1, after students come back from Christmas holidays.
“I know it’s kind of unconventional to start a class in the middle of the school year, but that’s how much we believe in this,” Hampton said. “Now that we have these funds available, we want to get started as soon as possible.
“So we’re going to contact those parents that are on the waiting list and give them the opportunity to go ahead and start in January, when we come back from Christmas break.”
Back in March, the Lamar County School District Board of Trustees voted to reconfigure Oak Grove Primary School, Oak Grove Lower Elementary School and Oak Grove Upper Elementary School into two schools.
Under the new plan, which began at the start of the upcoming 2022-2023 school year, Oak Grove Primary is now known as Oak Grove Elementary and serves Pre-K through fifth-grade students. Oak Grove Upper Elementary and Oak Grove Lower Elementary, which sit on the same campus, are consolidated into one school – which is known as Bellevue Elementary – to also serve Pre-K through fifth grade.
Given that, there is already space for the new classroom; as such, officials will not need to build additional space for the measure.
“We have space available,” Hampton said. “With the realignment of our elementary schools in the Oak Grove area, that did allow us to have an additional spot for that Pre-K classroom.
“If we had to fund and build another classroom, I don’t think we would have enough money. But because we had that space available, and all and we had to do was fund a teacher unit, a teacher’s assistant unit and the materials for that class, that went a long way to help getting this started.”
Under the Early Learning Collaborative – which features 12 classrooms that serve 240 Pre-K students from the school district and Pearl River Valley Opportunity Head Start – may be eligible to receive a 1:1 state tax credit for the donated amount, up to $1 million. In addition to the state tax credit, a tax deduction may also be available for federal taxes.
With that initiative, the costs for providing Pre-K services to 4-year-old children amount to $4,300 per child in full-day programs and $2,150 per child enrolled in half-day programs. The state of Mississippi provides half of these costs, but requires that the other half be provided by local matching funds, which may include local tax dollars, federal dollars as allowed or donations.
The Mississippi Department of Revenue can approve 1:1 tax credits up the amount approved by the Mississippi Legislature, which has been set at a total $6.5 million. Individuals who make a donation after that total sum (or cap) has been reached will not be eligible to receive the tax credit.
Individuals or businesses wishing to take advantage of the tax credit can call assistant superintendent Teresa Jenny by phone at (601) 794-1030 or via email at Teresa.email@example.com.
“As more attention is focused on College and Career Readiness and a child’s preparedness to begin kindergarten, it becomes increasingly important to reach children during their early developmental years by offering a Pre-K program,” Jenny said in a previous story. “Far too many children lack access to these programs, and in turn, start school lacking skills necessary for educational success.
“Research has shown that children who have rich early learning experiences are better prepared to thrive in school. We realize investments in early childhood education will reap exponential rewards evident for generations to come, and that is the basis for Lamar County School District’s request for financial support. In order to maximize the work that we do and bring about the greatest impact in Lamar County, we are asking (residents) to support our work by making a generous donation.”