Lowndes County aims to be certified with education nonprofit


Jason Spears

Jason Spears


Penny Mansell

Penny Mansell



Mary Pollitz



The Lowndes County Community Foundation's educational task force is working to prepare students for kindergarten starting at birth. 


Since education was a top concern county-wide during a community conversation LCF hosted with area stakeholders in March 2018, the task force submitted an application to Excel by 5, a community-based certification group aiming to prepare Mississippi children, from birth to age 5, for success in education. Lowndes County is now considered a candidate community for the program. 


Jason Spears, Columbus Municipal School District board president and chair for the education task force, said the process of moving from candidate to certified is now underway. 


Spears said by going through the process of certification, the task force will work to ensure parents know the resources available for children before kindergarten. For example, if a child is diagnosed with autism, Spears said parents need to know about existing support and resources the county already has to offer to help with the child's development. 


The first thing to do is figure out why parents don't know about those resources, he said. 


"From the candidate phase we are in now, that's where we start to do a thorough analysis to figure out which gaps exist and why they exist," Spears said. "It's to give us a full spectrum of what the groundwork needs to be. Once we identify those gaps, it gives us an opportunity to work with other groups and individuals to form plans on how we address those issues."  


Excel by 5 Director Eileen Beazley will help the task force brainstorm goals during a public meeting Thursday in room 120 at Mississippi University for Women's Education Building at 1 p.m. 


"One of the things our committee discussed was where to start," Spears said. "You can focus yourself on career and college ready and make sure students are finishing up and focused on becoming productive citizens, but the schools, public and private, are already putting a big emphasis on that. We thought, 'Let's dial it back and focus on where the basic level of education exists.' That's when they're born until they're 5. ...This (meeting) is going to broadcast what it will look like once we get to that level (and) what work will have to be done along the way to get us on track to deliver that for parents and children in the community." 


There are 38 communities in Mississippi that are certified with Excel by 5, including Oktibbeha County and West Point. Penny Mansell, MUW director of child and parent development, reached out to Excel by 5 last year in an effort to add Lowndes County to that list. 


With the Lowndes County education task force behind her, she said she is excited to work on childhood development throughout the county. 


"It is something that needs to happen," Mansell said. "The biggest thing for me was we need to make sure we all understand the services we have available. We've got all these pieces but people don't always know where to find them." 


Mansell said the process from candidate community to certified community typically takes up to two years. With a slew of educational support already existing in Lowndes County, such as programs and resources at the library, Imagination Library and childhood development programs, she said that it may not take two years to become certified. 


"We've got so many of the pieces already available," Mansell said. "It's just a matter that everybody is fully knowledgeable about the services our community already provides. It's not so much ... new things that we are going to add as much as it is communicating the things we are doing and how we can build onto that." 


Community members are welcome to join the meeting, where the task force will discuss the key areas of Excel by 5: community involvement, family and parent support, early care and education, and health. 


Spears added, once certified, stakeholders in Lowndes County can work with Excel by 5 and put measures into place to help curb educational deficiencies within the county.  


"It creates an opportunity for Lowndes County to share ideas and have a system of communication (with other counties)," Spears said. "Our community can model what they did in Oxford, or what happened on the coast that had a strong impact on the community. It's a great platform. It's not the answer to all the questions, but it gives us a hub of information (on what) other communities are doing and having success, to incorporate that in our community."




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