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Macon County Schools looking at Prek classrooms for Highlands, East Franklin; Jackson County received grant for expansion

Over the last few months, the Macon County Board of Education and school district staff have been working on ways to expand educational opportunities in Highlands through the addition of a preschool classroom. 

Macon County Schools Preschool Director Brooke Keener gave an overview of Pre-K throughout Macon County Schools in November and informed the board then that there was a great need for a preschool program at Highlands School. The Advance Highlands Education Committee (AHEC) was in the midst of an Advanced Planning Study to determine the feasibility of establishing a preschool program in Highlands. 

By December, Keener updated the board on AHEC’s findings, which validated the need for additional education offerings at Highlands. 

“AHEC and Macon County Schools are working to provide for two Pre-K classrooms at Highlands School,” said Macon County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin. “Currently, a lack of classroom space at Highlands School is prohibiting the school system from serving the student population. AHEC is working with NOVUS Architecture to consider options for creating a space at Pre-K space Highlands School.  Macon County Schools is working to secure the funding for the staff needed for the two classrooms.”

In order to accommodate the preschool classroom, a building addition would be needed at Highlands School. With available COVID19 relief funding, Macon County Schools is looking at adding six classrooms to East Franklin Elementary, which will also include preschool space. Similar funding opportunities may be available to serve the Highlands area. 

Blue Ridge School located in Cashiers was approved for grant funding last room to add a preschool program to their facility. The $115,240 grant from the Blue Ridge School Education Foundation will provide funding for the startup costs for the additional classroom. 

“We have long recognized the importance of early childhood education,” BRSEF President Carl Hyde said.  “We are pleased to exclusively fund the JCPS request for the initial funding of a second PreK classroom at Blue Ridge School for next school year.”

Preschool programs and early childhood literacy are top priorities for Superintendent Dr. Dana Ayers and Elementary Education Director Laura Dills.

“Dr. Ayers and I have been discussing the potential to expand our PreK programs, and now we have this unique opportunity to serve even more students at Blue Ridge,” Dills said.

The Jackson County district announced in December that it will add new preschool classrooms at Cullowhee Valley and Scotts Creek School for the 2022-23 school year.  Those two schools plus the addition at Blue Ridge will double the district’s preschool classrooms from three to six.

However, Blue Ridge is unique because it will be the only school in the district to offer a classroom specifically for three-year-olds.

“It’s a pilot program because it’s our first in Jackson County Public Schools where we’re intentionally seeking out three-year-olds,” Dills said. “The idea is for students to get two years of structured preschool experience before they enter Kindergarten because the sooner you can close learning gaps, the more likely it is that they will be proficient throughout their academic years.”

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