By Johnny Jackson
The Henry County Board of Education is forming a study group to investigate the feasibility of expanding public access to Pre-K education in the county.
"If we're going to affect education, we've got to do it at the foundation, and that's going to come from kids entering school from Pre-K," said District IV Board Member Erik Charles. "That's what's going to get us up to that 100 percent graduation rate."
Charles is a member of the school board's Pre-K Planning Study Group. The group is a committee of educators and community members, who are expected to share their input and expertise on the study.
"I've always advocated for the Pre-K Program to make the playing field as even as possible, so that those kids will have an equal opportunity going into school," he said.
Charles said past attempts at expanding Henry County's Pre-K Program options were hampered by the county's growth, and concerns about available classroom space, and potential accessibility to residents.
"We have five or six schools with space right now," said Charles, adding that classroom space has become available in recent years, with the addition of new elementary schools.
The Pre-K Planning Study Group is set to begin meeting on June 17, and will report its findings to the school board in September.
"Early intervention is crucial," said Philip Mellor, Henry Schools' executive director of special education. Mellor and Sandra Moore, the federal program's coordinator, will be co-chairpersons of the newly created committee.
Pre-school services are being offered in various forms in Henry County, including services provided through McIntosh Trail Early Childhood Development Council's Head Start and Pre-K Program, said Mellor. There are several privately owned pre-schools with programs funded partly by the Georgia Lottery.
"We've been tasked to look at pre-school services across the district," Mellor said.
The school system, he added, provides its own special education pre-school program, which served more than 300 children in March. Twelve of the 29 elementary schools were used to house a pre-k special education classroom this past school year.
Mellor said the committee also has been directed by Henry County Schools Superintendent Michael Surma to evaluate the potential economic impact of helping facilitate the expansion of Pre-K in public education, which has suffered major hits from the economic downturn.
Several supplemental funding options, he continued, will be a part of the committee's review and reporting process. The process will include reporting on possible grant-and local-funding options to decrease, or eliminate, potential costs associated with expanding and maintaining pre-school services, said Mellor.
"I'm thinking, if the board has to bring anything, it would be nominal to the return on the investment," said Board Member Charles. "If we have to put up any money, it would be well worth it. The beauty of this is it helps us build that foundation up."