The county became an Excel By 5 candidate community after its application was accepted by the organization. Excel By 5 is a Mississippi-only organization that provides guidelines for communities to support children from birth to age 5 and ensure they are eventually prepared to start kindergarten.
Those that meet the guidelines are officially recognized as early-childhood certified communities.
The certification process generally takes two to three years. To reach that point, Lee County must meet several requirements. The first step will be for focus groups to conduct surveys of parents, educators and health care officials to determine the county's needs. The group then will host a town hall meeting to discuss those needs and seek solutions.
Lee County's Excel By 5 coalition must also compile a manual of all resources available to children under age 5, must furnish an educational resource center for them and must host an annual health fair for them. A percentage of child care workers throughout the county will need to seek specific certifications. The group must also facilitate regular meetings between representatives from Head Start, child care centers and the K-12 community.
"Our first official order of business will be to do a needs assessment of what resources are available and what is needed," said Beverly Williams, who will serve as Lee County's certification manager.
Lee County's efforts began with a meeting in March, and the group has had several follow-up meetings leading up to submitting its application at the end of August.
"They have far exceeded anyone's expectations as far as getting to the point of applying," said Gabrielle Phillips, site coordinator with Excel By 5's state office. "They have taken a surgical approach with so many meetings, and had all of their ducks in a row when they applied."
Lee County joins 17 other candidate communities, including Lafayette County, New Albany-Union County and Corinth-Alcorn County. Eight communities are certified, including West Point and Oktibbeha County. Monroe County is no longer participating.