HPSD receives $2.1 million ‘early learning’ grant

HPSD receives $2.1 million ‘early learning’ grant
Pine Belt legislators, city officials and Hattiesburg Public School District administrators gathered Monday to announce the awarding of a $2.1 early education grant to HPSD.

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) _ Hattiesburg Public School District Superintendent Robert Williams was all smiles Monday morning, and with good reason.

The HPSD was celebrating after receiving word that it had received a $2.1 million “Early Education Collaborative Grant” that is expected to better ready about 1,200 4-year-olds for when they move into the public school system.

“It’s not just a great day for the Hattiesburg Public School District, but a great day for the City of Hattiesburg,” Williams said Monday morning during a ceremony at HPSD’s Early Childhood Center on Forrest Street.

“You often here me speak of the three ‘E’s” _ enrollment, enlistment, employment _ which is our goal here at the Hattiesburg Public School District, and this can do nothing but help us reach our goal on the front end.”

The district will administer $700,000 over the next three years, starting with an initial group of about 329 4-year-olds this August.

Instruction will be spread across 18 “classrooms” within HPSD, Pearl River Valley Opportunity Head Start/Forrest County chapter and three daycare “private provider partners” in Hattiesburg: Tunjia’s Little Ones Child Development Center; Therah’s Child Care; and Tj’s Learning Center.

“We do have some classrooms in our district, but this will expand those opportunities into some other daycare facilities we have,” Williams said.

The money will be used to enhance resources and training for instructors and offer more opportunities to more children for pre-kindergarten education.

“There is clear need in Hattiesburg when you look at the test scores at the pre-K and kindergarten level students,” said Rep. Percy Watson (D-Hattiesburg), “and when a young person starts out behind, and you don’t make adjustments, that (gap) increases as time proceeds.

“So, yes, it’s based on need, but also quality of this administration in handling the funds we do have in this community.

The grant, which was first awarded in 2013, usually are awarded on three-year cycles. Hattiesburg became one of only about 20 school districts in the state to receive the funds.

“It’s a very competitive grant,” said Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker, who was one of the state representatives who wrote the legislation to create the award. “But this $2.1 million will act as an investment in the short term as well as the long run.”

It marked the first time HPSD had applied in three funding cycles, and this award was funded by monies set aside from collections made by the Attorney General’s Office.

Hattiesburg found out in December that it had been awarded the grant.

“It was a nice Christmas present,” said Carrie Hornsby, HPSD director of federal programs, who served as the tip of the district’s spear throughout the application process.

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