STARKVILLE — The Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District added 20 more seats to its pre-kindergarten early learning collaborative with an extra classroom at Sudduth Elementary for next school year.
The SOCSD board of trustees unanimously approved expanding the Starkville Oktibbeha Early Learning Collaborative to include pre-k classrooms at Sudduth and West Elementary, including the extra classroom at Sudduth.
Previously SOELC serviced children between Emerson School and Head Start, and now with the program expanding to include students at Sudduth and West, there will be a total of 260 children impacted in the new school year.
The district will have 13 total SOELC classrooms. There will be seven at Emerson, five at Sudduth, and one at West.
“The early learning collaborative has expanded each year (since the state of Mississippi awarded SOCSD with the program in November 2016) with Title I dollars,” Assistant superintendent Anna Guntharp said. “This upcoming (school) year will be the first time that the early learning collaborative is being expanded to Sudduth and West. Prior to that, the Sudduth and West pre-k program was funded solely through Title I. It still will be funded this way, but we’re able to add an additional pre-k classroom at Sudduth through using (early learning) collaborative funds.”
Title I is the federal funding that designates how much money the state sets aside for schools. In Mississippi, early learning collaborative programs are funded by tax dollars specifically designated for the program, and anyone can donate and may be eligible to receive a state tax credit for what is donated up to $1 million, Guntharp said.
Pre-k at SOCSD is available to children who turn 4 by Sept. 1 of that school year, and the SOELC is free to parents.
Adding Sudduth and West to the collaborative helps teachers and students have access to the Mississippi Department of Early Childhood, according to Sudduth principal Morgan Abraham and West principal Gabrielle Mills.
“This expands our ability to give quality pre-k education to those students to prepare them for when they come to kindergarten,” Abraham said. “I think, too, because the citizens of the county are paying their taxes, the tax credit dollars benefit us directly and help our students, which then helps our schools to thrive.”
Both Abraham and Mills said the benefits of enrolling a student in a public school’s pre-k program are numerous. The students are exposed to early learning standards, the kindergarten pre-test scores are higher, the students’ confidence levels are higher, and they’ve been able to work on their social skills, like sharing and kindness, a little earlier than those who don’t attend pre-k.
“I think another benefit we have is the access to (Mississippi Department of Education) coaches,” Mills said. “Throughout (the students’ school) career, MDE sets the guidelines for everything we have to do, so if we can start them early with knowing what’s expected through MDE, that’s very helpful. … The (collaborative) pre-k really helps their confidence levels. When they come in and really know it, oh, it’s just so exciting to them.”
Pre-k teachers within SOCSD will also benefit from audio enhancement in the classrooms. Teachers will be equipped with microphones that will serve to help their students hear them more clearly, according to Guntharp.
Registration takes place in February each year before the upcoming school year begins. From there, students will each take a kindergarten readiness assessment, then the principals will sort students into classes.
Although registration is over for next school year, the additional classroom means more of those applicants will be accepted.
Those registering at Sudduth and West must be zoned for those schools, and those registering at Emerson must live in Oktibbeha County.
Sudduth and West are both academic need-based, so students who score low on the kindergarten readiness assessment are placed above other students who score higher on the assessment. Emerson is not academic need-based, so the pre-k program there is first-come-first-served.
Emerson adds new classroom
A new classroom for 3- to 4-year-olds has been added to Emerson Preschool, which is tuition-based and the precursor to pre-k.
“We have a really lengthy waiting list, and for some reason in Starkville finding care for 3-year-olds is really hard,” Brandi Burton, director of educational enhancement and innovative research at the Discovery Center, said. “We’re really excited about adding an extra classroom. … (Age three) is our longest waiting list of any age.”
The classroom size will accommodate 15 newly enrolled students, and it adds a teaching position as well as an assistant teaching position to the preschool.