County closing in on becoming Excel by 5 candidate community

By Gwen Sisson

Louisville has been named an Excel by 5 Candidate Community, thanks to a few concerned citizens who wanted to begin combating the issues of poverty right here at home.

The first coalition meeting is scheduled for April 10.  During this meeting, the state Excel By 5 staff will be guiding the coalition through a Needs Resources Assessment to lay the groundwork for becoming a certified early childhood community.

Bob Clay describes the program to Rotary.

Bob Clay describes the program to Rotary.

Frank Cooper of the Winston County Partners for Community Living (WCPCL) said Excel by 5 will help Winston County in taking a first step to grow the community in a way that boosts crucial early-childhood learning.

This initiative began in 2011 when WCPCL invited Rachel Welborn, program manager for the Southern Rural Development Center (SRDC) to speak about her organization. From that meeting, WCPCL began partnering with SRDC at Mississippi State University to implement a plan called “Turning the Tide on Poverty.” According to Cooper, this project was designed to promote community involvement in fighting the issues of poverty.

In organizing Turning the Tide, study circles were formed to develop a clear community action plan that would identify and address various poverty-related concerns. Cooper said one circle’s action plan focused on education for young children, and recommended the community partner with Excel By 5. Cooper said one particularly attractive component of the Excel By 5 program emphasizes the important roles parents and primary caregivers play in educating children.

“This project brings everyone to the table to get involved, including parents, family, schools, early childhood and day care service providers, libraries, parks and recreation, faith-based institutions and groups, and the health care and business sectors,” Cooper said.

Cooper said volunteers and staff have begun working through the certification checklist for Excel By 5 that will help gauge where Louisville stands in the two-year process. He said he hopes this community-driven program will help make improvements in the four focus areas: Community involvement, Family and Parent Support, Early Care & Education, and Health.

“WCPCL recognizes that improving the early experiences of children is the most effective and efficient way to improve their educational outcomes, thereby improving their futures and greatly benefiting Winston County,” Cooper said.

“Excel by 5 will benefit Winston County in many ways,” said Ken McMullan, superintendent of education for the Louisville Municipal School District. “The concept of kids being prepared when they hit the steps of the school at age 5 is certainly a win, win for all. When we become a certified Excel by 5 community, we certainly will be excited as our students will come to us ready to excel both academically and socially. The county will benefit as this will be just another reason why industry should choose our county to locate.”

Bob Clay, executive director of the Excel by 5 program in Mississippi, said the community has had a great response to Excel by 5 so far, including positive responses from Louisville Mayor Will Hill, Superintendent of Education for the Louisville Municipal School District Ken McMullan and Frank Cooper with the WCPCL.

“They are in full support of this effort,” Clay said. “We thank them for their leadership in bringing the Excel By 5 initiative to Louisville and Winston County.”

Clay said the goal of Excel By 5 is to provide a set of best practices that a community can meet in order to ensure children ages 0-5 are better prepared for kindergarten and the first grade. Clay said research shows that 90 percent of a child’s brain development occurs before the age of 5, so it is important that the right steps are taken to support this science and the associated outcomes.

“This initiative provides a community based grassroots effort to make a difference,” Clay said. “If children are better prepared to enter school, it will provide a better foundation for learning in the later years.”

Clay said it is his hope that Winston County will embrace this initiative and that the outcomes will include:

Children being happy, healthy and ready to learn when they enter school,

Community collaboration and volunteerism  will make the community better aware of the importance of early education and to get people involved around a common theme of making a better life for young children,

Parents will be more involved and aware of the importance of helping their children) be prepared,

Child Care providers are aware of quality improvements to support young children,

From an Economic Development perspective, Clay would hope that as people and businesses consider Louisville and Winston County as a potential location, they will recognize the benefits of being in a Certified Early Childhood Community.