Jackson Public Schools will expand pre-K access to children in the city through a new early learning collaborative. Credit: Jackson Public Schools

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The Jackson Public School District is expanding pre-kindergarten services through a $9 million grant from the state, allowing them to serve more 4-year-olds in the city. 

The grant comes from the statewide early learning collaboratives program, which are pre-K programs made up of partnerships among school districts, Head Start agencies, childcare centers, and nonprofit groups. The state’s early learning collaboratives have earned high marks for quality on national reports, but have previously been critiqued for limited access. 

The JPS collaborative will serve an additional 460 students and is part of a move to double the number of students served statewide by fall 2022. By August, 30 collaboratives will be serving more than 6,000 children across the state. 

The Jackson collaborative includes JPS, Jackson State University’s Lottie W. Thornton Early Childhood Center, Little Saints Academy, and Head Start provider Hinds County Human Resource Agency. It will serve  1,226 students, approximately the same number that are currently enrolled in kindergarten with the district.

“The idea behind the collaborative is really to expand access to the same high quality that they would experience in a school-based pre-K program, and to provide the same resourcing and professional development so that you elevate teaching and learning on both ends,” said Michael Cormack, deputy superintendent of JPS. 

The collaborative will follow the state’s newly released “Mississippi Beginnings” pre-K curriculum, and will host professional development opportunities once a month on Saturdays. The grant will allow the district to compensate teachers for this additional time, and the trainings will also be open to other childcare professionals that aren’t a part of the collaborative. 

JPS Superintendent Errick Greene said in a statement that this grant will help prepare more students to experience success in school. Cormack said the expansion will eliminate the need for considerations of financial need or waiting lists that had previously been a part of JPS’s pre-K admissions process. The program is currently enrolling students and recruiting teachers, and the district is putting an emphasis on trying to get parents to register early so they can plan accordingly. 

“I think what’s really exciting is that with the addition of Jackson, we will become the largest collaborative and we will help to build the scale of what the state of Mississippi has been doing,” Cormack said. “Ultimately, we’re hopeful that as we prove this concept and we prove that pre-kindergarten works, that we can help to build to scale the ability to serve all four-year-olds throughout the state.  We view that as a part of our challenge, demonstrating what is possible here.”

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Julia James is Mississippi Today's poverty and breaking news reporter. A native of Mandeville, Louisiana, James recently completed an investigative reporting internship with Mississippi Today. In that role, she closely covered the sprawling welfare scandal and public education. She will continue that work, as well as working closely with Mississippi Today’s breaking news team. James is a 2021 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied journalism and public policy and was in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. She has been published in The New York Times, Mississippi Today, and Clarion Ledger.