When Dr. Dana Ayers became Superintendent of Jackson County Public Schools in June 2021, two of her top priorities were expanding the district’s preschool programs and placing a greater emphasis on early childhood literacy. Ayers will see those goals accomplished next fall thanks to a $236,000 grant from Dogwood Health Trust.
“This is great news,” Ayers said. “We’ll be opening two brand new classrooms giving us the ability to serve an additional 36 students across the district in our preschool programs.”
The district currently serves preschool students at Blue Ridge, Fairview and Smokey Mountain Elementary School. The new classrooms are planned for Cullowhee Valley and Scotts Creek School with a capacity of 18 students at each location.
Funding from the grant will cover renovations, classroom supplies, playground upgrades, screening tools and salaries for a teacher at each new site for one year. Minor construction will begin in the coming weeks so the district can receive state approval and be ready to welcome preschool students in the fall of 2022.
Dogwood Health Trust is based in Asheville and seeks to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals in Western North Carolina’s 18 counties and the Qualla Boundary.
“They have several strategic priorities,” Ayers said. “Specifically, they believe in educating early. I wholeheartedly agree, and it does mimic one of my goals for Jackson Public County Schools.”
To receive the grant, the district must engage community partners and be able to sustain the programs in future years.
“We are fortunate to already receive a large sum of money from our county commissioners, so it is my hope to use a portion of those funds,” Ayers said. “I think the county commissioners will be very supportive knowing that it’s not just an opportunity for Jackson County Public Schools, but an opportunity for our entire community.”
Access to early childhood education and quality preschool programs is an ongoing problem in Jackson County.
“There simply isn’t enough to meet the needs of the population,” Ayers said. “This expansion will allow us to reach families who have been underserved.”
Ayers believes a structured preschool environment that focuses on early literacy skills is an important part of a student’s preparation for kindergarten.
“It is no coincidence that Dogwood Health Trust is community-oriented and has strategic priorities that mimic some of my own for JCPS,” Ayers said. “I am enormously grateful for their financial support and commitment to help us expand the preschool programs here in Jackson County Public Schools.”