School district adds four more pre-K classes

Published 9:58 am Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Although research overwhelmingly points to the benefits of prekindergarten classes, such classes are not required in the state of Mississippi.

Vicksburg Warren School District is working to increase the number of children in the district who enroll in prekindergarten, believing the rewards will pay off in dividends.

Superintendent Chad Shealy said when he arrived, the district offered four prekindergarten classes. The next year, eight were offered. Next year, that number will rise to 12.

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“Historically, our district has taken the stance that these are the classes we offer, and we send rejection letters to everyone else,” he said.

“I don’t like that philosophy because if people in this community have a need, we’re trying our best to meet that need.”

Shealy said he believes every child deserves the same opportunity to attend prekindergarten.

“It all happened because I walked by and one of my employees was writing names on rejection letters,” he said. “I asked why they were doing that, and they said, ‘Because we only have four classes,’ so I asked, ‘Why do we only have four classes?’ and they said ‘Because we haven’t asked for more.’ ”

Shealy took the issue to the Board of Trustees, which supported the move, and now each student who applied by the deadline has a spot in a prekindergarten class next year.

“We believe if you raise that bottom rung of the ladder, you’re going to raise them all,” he said.

“It gives us the opportunity to work on those literacy skills with all of the students who want it.”

There will be a prekindergarten class at each elementary school with the exception of Bowmar Elementary School.

“Fundamentally, that is the biggest barrier we see with students in poverty is the lack of language skills they come to us with, and it gives us the opportunity to begin familiarity with text and grow that vocabulary,” he said. “When we have children who are arriving in kindergarten who are ready for kindergarten, then we see a lot more growth and those kids don’t start off with an achievement gap that they will carry with them forever. We feel that it’s imperative that early intervention is important.”

Shealy added the district receives no funding from the state of Mississippi for the prekindergarten classes because they are not required.

“It gives chances to kids that keep them from struggling instead of us making a response to that gap once it’s there, we get the preemptive push, beginning with the end in mind and being proactive.”