At their February 10 meeting, the Lowndes County School Board discussed adding a central vocational school and pre-kindergarten programs.
Superintendent Lynn Wright asked that the district consider consolidating vocational training in one location and also that pre-kindergarten classes be added. Wright had put these items on the agenda last month, but they were tabled when he had to leave to rush to New Hope, where there was a bomb threat.
While the district has vocational education options at its campuses now, they are isolated from one another. If a student at one school wants to take auto shop, and that class is not offered at his campus, he cannot receive that training. Wright wants to return to the concept of one central location for vocational training, similar to what existed in the district until the 1990s. Under then-Superintendent Tommy Smith, the vocational classes were scattered to the three campuses. The former vocational school was renovated and is currently the site of West Lowndes High School.
“I am seeking the board’s blessing in forming a committee to investigate the feasibility of developing a centralized vocational center,” Wright said. “I feel like it is something we need for our students. In talking with superintendents from other districts, we are one of the few counties that does not have a centralized vocational school. In talking with industry, I think this would give us the opportunity for our students to learn some industry-specific courses where they could be prepared for advanced training at East Mississippi Community College. EMCC will also work with us in doing dual enrollment and dual credit. If we could figure out a way to do this and do it right, there would be great benefits for our students and our community.”
“My main thing is how much is this going to cost?” asked Trustee Jane Kilgore.
“What I’m proposing is to put together a plan on how to finance it and what it would involve,” Wright said. “We want to look at other centers in other counties and make sure we do it right the first time and that we’ve got the funding. We want to look for grants, we want to see if there’s federal money out there as well as state money. We hope to get industry to partner with us on this project.”
“I don’t want to have a $20 million piece of concrete and end up laying off teachers,” Kilgore said. “We’ve got to keep our teachers and staff, and we don’t know what the state is going to fund us, either.”
“I think it’s a good thing to look into,” said Trustee Jacqueline Gray. “The industry we have in our back yard is having to bring people in because the schools in Lowndes County aren’t producing students who are trained.”
“I think it would also help us attract more industry,” Wright said.
The board unanimously approved the formation of the committee.
Wright also asked to form an exploratory committee to look into pre-kindergarten.
“I have met with [Assistant Superintendent Peggy Rogers] and we have talked about through federal programs establishing pre-kindergarten on every campus,” Wright said. “Some districts are having more than one on each campus and are tuition-based. If we had tuition-based we would have to set a rate, and then it would be funded by the fees to have more than one on each campus. We have room on two campuses to house pre-kindergarten. Pre-K means you have to have access to certain facilities on campus to have the program. [Roger Hill] at Caledonia wants one, but they are full and we would have to figure out a way to house it. But I understand the state has portable modules we could haul up here and set up. This is something that we really need, the elementary administrators feel that we really need this. Early childhood educators will tell us that 85% of all a child is going to learn has been learned by age 5. If we could get them started early we would have a good, solid foundation to build on.” “I would like to find out how you choose which kids can go in that class,” Kilgore said. “Some of the ones who need it the most will be missed if they have to pay for it. I’d like to explore what it would actually cost us. I’d like to see us do it district-wide.”
“Some districts have a drawing if you have more students eligible than you have room for,” Wright said. “Then of course you can still have tuition-based. On transportation some districts have the parents responsible for transporting the students.”
“I would definitely like to see transportation put in there,” Gray said. “Many of the parents who need this program can’t afford the transportation.”
The board unanimously approved the formation of a pre-K committee.