Gordon County, in partnership with Whitfield, Catoosa, Gilmer and Murray counties, was selected Wednesday as one of Georgia’s four Early Education Empowerment Zones and will participate in a community commitment ceremony at 3 p.m., Oct. 3.
Early Education Empowerment Zones or E3Z’s are regions of the state that have agreed to work in partnership with the Department of Early Care and Learning and other state agencies to pilot early education system reform initiatives and partnerships to support better outcomes for young children. The collaborative counties will receive more than $1 million in targeted resources and will participate in research that will help the state identify sustainable and replicable implementation strategies that can be scaled statewide.
“We are very excited about how this will help to enhance the services for the birth to 5 population in our county,” said Larry Vickery, owner of Bee Kids Academy at 121 E. Belmont Drive in Calhoun.
Funding for the E3Z initiative is part of the $51.7 million Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant received last year by Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning from the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“We are fortunate to be recognized as a region united in our focus to work collaboratively for the benefit of our children and future workforce,” Michele Taylor, superintendent of Calhoun City Schools, said.
DECAL used quantitative data such as third-grade reading proficiency, poverty level, premature birth rates and the percentage of licensed childcare capacity filled by children receiving subsidy gathered from the Department of Public Health, Department of Economic Development, the Department of Community Affairs and the Department of Education to initially identify 11 geographic regions of the state with challenging circumstances for children.
Then site visits to each of the potential zones were conducted to examine qualitative data focused on each of the community’s capacity to pilot, refine and model initiatives and partnerships that support an accessible, aligned and coordinated system of early education across Georgia.
“There was great representation from Gordon County at the Empowerment Zone meeting held in Dalton, Ga., in late July”, said Gloria Calhoun, director of Quality Care for Children of North Georgia. “The community collaboration in preparation for the event as well as the overwhelming support that was demonstrated was evidence of Gordon County’s ongoing commitment to Early Care and Education.”
The E3Z initiative will be implemented over the three-year period remaining for the ELC Grant. Georgia’s grant includes a variety of projects, all of which focus on improving services to Georgia’s children from birth to age 8 and their families.
While DECAL is the lead agency for the grant, the work will be accomplished through partnerships with other state and federal agencies and nonprofit organizations.
Bibb County, Clarke County and a Southern County Zone including Colquitt, Cook, Brooks, Lowndes and Echols counties, were also selected as E3Z locations.