BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Next month, the Biloxi School District will open up its first pre-k program. It will be funded by a $495,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Administrators spent Friday interviewing teachers. The preschool classes will be held at a school that closed four years ago.
For two years, Headstart has been leasing a wing at Nichols Elementary to run its preschool program for three and four-year-old youngsters, but the program can only take in 140 children. Now, with a $495,000 grant from the Kellogg Foundation, the Biloxi School District can team up with Headstart to expand free pre-K access to families in east Biloxi.
"We were ecstatic, because that means we're going to be able to service 4-year-old students and ensure that they are receiving a quality education," said Biloxi Schools Assistant Superintendent Dr. Janice Wilson.
"I was excited that we could finally meet the needs of more children in the Biloxi area. With the raising of the standards, with Core standards, we do need to have every child in a quality pre-k program," said Barbara Coatney, Executive Director of Gulf Coast Community Action Agency, which operates Headstart.
The grant will fund four classes, four teachers and four assistants. It will allow up to 80 preschoolers in the Biloxi School District to enroll.
"We're going to be able to handle the waiting list that Headstart has. Those students will be our priority, and once we've serviced that waiting list, we open it up to the rest of the community," said Wilson.
This was not the first time that the Biloxi School District has received a grant offer from the Kellogg Foundation. In 2010, the foundation offered to give the district a $1.5 million grant to help re-open Nichols Elementary.
District leaders rejected that offer, saying it wasn't enough to operate the school. Since then, Nichols has been used to house Headstart, the Boys and Girls Club and an early childhood speech center.
"It's great that we have an educational center in the community. So instead of it being a k-5 elementary school, it's now an early childhood center where we're focusing on children," said Wilson. "We're just glad that we could form a partnership with Kellogg and that we're going to use this beautiful facility to make a difference in the community and to help educate children."
While the Kellogg grant is only for three years, Biloxi administrators plan to seek more funding to keep the program going. The first day of classes is Sept. 8.
WLOX spoke to the co-chairman of the Save Our Schools Coalition, the group that's been protesting the closure of Nichols and has filed a lawsuit against the district. James Crowell told us he supports the pre-k program, but said he preferred that it be run solely by the Biloxi School District.