County leaders chose to save their energy and resources for the full fall launch of the program, a decision Dan Hodge of the Jackson County Education Coalition says he’s satisfied with.
“A lot of things here are based on school calendars, where you’re going to school – to try to upset the apple cart in January with a lot of changes would have been very difficult on families,” Hodge explains. “I think it helped us out because we could see what the other counties were doing successfully and not quite successfully.”
Of the five counties selected for the program, Jackson is the only one considered a rural area, with an estimated population of just over 43,000. Within that group, the Family and Social Services Administration estimates there are 303 eligible preschool-age kids – and 255 of them are currently unserved.
County leaders hope to serve 100 of those children this fall.
Hodge’s team consists of about 30 folks divided among three subcommittees. Let’s take a quick peek at the work each is doing to prepare for Jackson County’s jump into the pilot next school year.
When StateImpact spoke to Hodge after Governor Pence selected Jackson County on the slate of pilot participants last summer, he told us only three providers in the entire county met the program standard – a Level 3 or 4 ranking on the state’s Paths to QUALITY ranking system. He also mentioned a handful of home providers and public schools that had expressed desire to get up to speed.
So far, two private programs have reached approved status, and seven more received mini-grants from the state to assist in increasing capacity. Hodge says the area is on track to have 10 qualified providers by the start of the program August.
Among them will be several of the local public schools, including existing programs at both Crothersville and Medora Community Schools. In addition to operating its current program – which does not qualify for On My Way Pre-K under instructional time requirements – Seymour Community Schools will give the Jackson County Education Coalition and the local Child Care Network a room in a local elementary school building to facilitate a preschool pilot classroom.
Hodge says it’s crucial to still promote programs like Seymour’s current offering and other area providers who won’t participate in the pilot but are still providing opportunities.
“We believe there’s not one shop that fits everybody, so how can we give the most flexibility to parents on preschool opportunities in Jackson County?” Hodge says. “If they qualify, that’s great. If they don’t qualify, there are still a lot of other preschool opportunities that are out there for your kiddo.”
It’s clear that marketing is a piece of the puzzle Hodge enjoys.
One of his favorite outreach tools is a character, “ICIE,” who his team created to specifically target kids. He has even ordered a seven-foot-tall costume so ICIE can visit with kids at various community events, and tell them about the benefits of preschool.
“It’s very important to not only reach the parents – one of the things we want to do is reach to the kids, too,” Hodge says.
In preparation for September, county leaders continue to find local events they can attend to hand out informational materials and personally speak to members of their target audience. This spring, Hodge lists off, that includes Easter egg hunts and Jackson’s “Kids’ Fest” in April.
An intake agent will be present at all of those events to help get people signed up on-site.
County leadership is encouraging another new tactic that has already been tested during preschool registration day at Crothersville Community Schools. Each parent who came in to sign up their child filled out a pilot enrollment form among the other required documents. Out of the 28 children that signed up, 11 would qualify for a pilot grant.
“[This] way we can have a lot of kids signed up and we can see the actual numbers,” Hodge explains. “If they can sign up right away, it gives us a lot better idea of the number of kids we’re truly serving.”
The Jackson County Education Coalition has already secured $40,000, which Hodge estimates should cover all of the children they hope to serve.
If they can reach 100 eligible kids at an average cost of $4,000 per child, that adds up to a total cost of $400,000. The community match required as part of the pilot comes in at 10 percent:
10% x $400,000 = $40,000
Hodge says ultimately, the fundraising goal to finish year one will depend on how many kids sign up for the program.
“If we need to raise more, I think we can,” Hodge says. “That would be a great problem to have, because that would mean we have enough providers, and we’re able to get more than 100 kids for those providers.”
Interested families in Jackson – as well as the other four pilot counties – may now apply for the pilot program on the FSSA website. Applications are due April 30.