During its regular meeting Tuesday, the Anniston City Council approved spending $180,000 to help create three pre-K classes for the Anniston school system. The new classes will help lessen some of the backlog of children waiting to enroll in the city's pre-K program. Meanwhile, the pre-K classes will help more students perform better academically in their later years and possibly achieve more overall success in life, some education experts say.
Anniston schools Superintendent Joan Frazier said the money will be used to hire teachers for the classes, the plan being to place one class at Golden Springs Elementary and two classes at Constantine Elementary. The school system offers three pre-K classes to date, including two at Golden Springs and one at Constantine.
Frazier said there is a growing demand for early education in the school system.
"We have waiting lists of students," Fraizer said.
According to the resolution the council passed to allocate the funding, there are enough students on the waiting list to fill three classrooms.
Frazier said she is a huge fan of pre-K education for children.
"The sooner we can get children in a literacy-rich environment, statistics show that it will help those children perform better throughout their school career," Frazier said.
Allison de la Torre, executive director for the Alabama School Readiness Alliance, an organization that advocates for quality pre-K education in the state, said the benefits of early education are well-documented and significant.
"Children who have high-quality pre-K education are more likely to succeed — to read at grade level by third grade and then go on into success in college and in their careers," de la Torre said.
De la Torre said her organization considers high-quality pre-kindergarten education to be classes taught by teachers with at least a bachelor's degree in education and specialized training in early development education.
Megan Carolan, policy research coordinator for the National Institute for Early Education Research, a New Jersey-based research and policy organization, said early education programs also help local school systems.
"It reduces school retention, helping school districts spend less of their funding to teach the same students again," Carolan said.
Carolan said that in addition to helping students perform better in their school lives, studies show that pre-school classes have other long-term benefits. She said the first five years of a child's life are extremely important to their long-term development because their brains are still developing at that age.
"In studies that compare students in pre-K to students who were not, the students in the pre-K were less likely to be arrested, less likely to have teen pregnancy and less likely to start smoking," Carolan said.
Councilman Seyram Selase said he was pleased the council approved the funding for the early education classes.
"This shows our commitment to education and that we do support education," Selase said.
Mayor Vaughn Stewart said he strongly supported the new pre-kindergarten classes.
"Every national study shows the benefits of pre-K and this is going to make an impact in our school system," Stewart said.
In addition to the classes, the council approved $25,000 to establish another after-school program for the school system. The system's current after-school program focuses on tutoring, Frazier said. The new program, which will be administered by the local YMCA, will provide quality after-school child care for all the city's elementary school students, she said.
Also during the meeting, the council gave City Manager Brian Johnson permission to begin searching for an economic development consultant. Johnson said he expects the city to hire a consulting firm on a temporary basis at first, with the overall plan being to hire a full-time, in-house consultant by the spring.
"This is not a permanent solution, this is just to make the city ready to hire a permanent consultant and to also help with economic development," Johnson said.
Stewart said the idea is to have someone whose sole job is to look for economic development opportunities for the entire city.
"We want our own economic developer who will wake up every morning and think, jobs, jobs, jobs," Stewart said.
In other business the council:
• Approved a $380,100 contract with APAC Mid-South for street resurfacing work through the city.
• Approved a voluntary investment retirement option for city employees to supplement their main pension retirement plans.
• Appointed Will Clay as an alternate public defender for the municipal court.
• Appointed Ellen Bass to the Regional Medical Center Board.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.