New Albany to host summit on early childhood education

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

NEW ALBANY – Given what she has seen, Windy Faulkner is passionate about the need to expand pre-kindergarten education in Mississippi.
Faulkner, the elementary principal at Ingomar Attendance Center, knows that every year the school has kindergarten students who can’t hold a pencil or walk in a straight line and those who are unfamiliar with the alphabet.
“To meet the state’s requirements, we start reading after Christmas in kindergarten,” Faulkner said. “If kids enter school and don’t know letters or the alphabet, it is hard to get them caught up.”
With an eye toward that disparity, New Albany is hosting its first Early Childhood Education Summit on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Magnolia Civic Center. The event is free and open to the general public.
“The more that community leaders and parents are aware of the importance of early childhood education, I think even more political interest will grow in that direction,” said New Albany Superintendent Charles Garrett.
Guest speakers include Laurie Smith, executive director of Mississippi Building Blocks; Cathy Grace, director of Early Childhood Development Policy of the Children’s Defense Fund; Lynn House, deputy state superintendent; Nita Thomas, executive director of Mississippi Head Start Association; and Annjo Lemons, director of Excel By 5.
“The interest in early childhood education is elevated at this time, which is a good thing,” Smith said.
The CREATE Foundation, Magnolia Civic Center, BNA Bank and Union County Development Foundation are sponsoring the community event. Officials from both the New Albany and Union County School Districts have helped to plan it.
“It is an initial effort to raise awareness of the need to try to put pressure on our legislature to provide funding so that we might move toward a solution,” said Phil Nanney, executive director of the Union County Development Association.
Mississippi is the only Southern state without a state-funded universal pre-kindergarten program, but momentum is beginning to build.
The Mississippi Economic Council has put its weight behind an effort to improve early childhood education in the state and Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and Gov. Haley Barbour have both advocated for pre-kindergarten education.
Tuesday’s summit hopes to carry that moment even further.
“I think the essence of it is that eventually to have a successful program, we’re going to need a state-funded initiative,” said CREATE Senior Vice President Lewis Whitfield.

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.

Early Childhood Education Summit
WHEN: Tuesday night, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Magnolia Civic Center, New Albany