Everything is falling into place for two pre-kindergarten classrooms, set to open this August in Jackson County, school leaders say, but there isn’t space to include every child.
One new pre-K class is planned for Blue Ridge School, serving the southern portion of Jackson County. The other is housed at Fairview Elementary, serving the northern portion.
Jackson County Board of Education members approved pre-K classrooms in March. To make the program financially viable, and to meet mandated teacher-to-student ratios, they require 16 to 18 students for each.
It didn’t take long to reach that goal.
More than 50 students were screened for slots district wide, according to Laura Dills, director of Jackson County Schools Elementary Education.
“Each classroom will be full with 18 students in each class, and there will be a waiting list at each location,” she said.
The classrooms will operate on the same schedule as their respective districts. Schools in Blue Ridge District open doors on Monday, Aug. 14. The Smoky Mountain District follows suit a week later, on Tuesday, Aug. 22.
“We have more than 100 4-year-old students not being served in a pre-K setting in Jackson County,” said interim Superintendent Kim Elliott. “Many citizens have expressed a need and are appreciative for the reinstatement of two classrooms,” she said.
Early childhood education and opportunities are key to a child’s success in school and in life, according to Elliott and other education- and child-development experts.
Local officials closed their last preschool location after the 2009-10 school year, following local-and-state funding cuts. A partnership between Jackson County Schools and Region A is paying for these two new sites, using a mix of state pre-K reimbursements ($473 per qualifying child per month), and federal Title I and Exceptional Children funding funneled through the state.
The classrooms cost about $250,000 to operate.
School officials have teachers in mind for both classrooms, each with “extensive experience with preschool-aged children and pre-K programs,” according to Dills. The teachers will be announced following hiring approval at the Monday, July 31, board of education meeting.
Families will be contacted soon about upcoming open-house nights, Dills said. A parent-information night will be held in the spring, for those interested in pre-K for the 2018-19 school year, she said.