Biloxi earns Excel by 5 certification

Biloxi has been certified as an Excel by 5 community, meaning parents of pre-schoolers will be able to more easily find resources to help prepare their children to enter school.

The Excel by 5 state office announced the certification after a two-year certification process in which volunteers representing Biloxi Public Schools, the city, and child-development advocates have met regularly to identify and gauge resources available in Biloxi to help prepare pre-schoolers for their first classroom experience.

“This is outstanding news for our community,” said Dr. Paul A. Tisdale, superintendent of Biloxi Public Schools. Tisdale and the Biloxi School Board had appointed longtime Biloxi educator Susan Hunt to help organize the Excel by 5 certification effort, which was chaired by Carol Burnett of Moore Community House.

“A dedicated group of people from all segments of our community — daycare, heathcare, public safety, recreation, and the business community — came together to help show that we are indeed a child-friendly community, and we want our young people here in Biloxi to be developmentally prepared for that first day when they walk into the classroom environment.”

The group has worked for months to create directories of daycares with trained staff, events such as health fairs for pre-schoolers, and opening a family resource center on the campus of Lopez school.

Mississippi’s Excel by 5 program, the first of its kind in the nation, traces its roots to a discussion about child development between kindergarten teacher Debby Renfroe and her husband, Steve, longtime public affairs manager at the Chevron Refinery in Pascagoula.

The ensuing discussion about better preparing pre-schoolers involved Dr. Cathy Grace of Mississippi State University’s Early Childhood Institute, the Barksdale Reading Institute, the Mississippi Department of Education, the Mississippi Department of Health, the Mississippi Department of Human Services, the Mississippi Legislature, the Mississippi Governor’s office, Mississippi Community College Board, Mississippi State University Extension Service, Head Start, the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service, Mississippi Public Broadcasting, and several non-profit organizations.

In addition to identifying resources, the program also identifies gaps in community resources, encourages community collaboration and volunteerism, promotes economic development, and addresses children’s needs with regard to education, health care, safety and childcare. Overall, the program says, children in these communities will be healthier and better prepared to begin their formal education at age 5.

More Excel by 5 online

— To learn more about the Excel by 5 movement in Biloxi and to see key board members,
click here.

— To see photographs from the “Ready Set Go Health Fair,” which the Biloxi Exel by 5 coalition sponsored in September 2010, click here.

— To see photographs from the opening of the Excel by 5 Family Resource Center at Lopez School in December 2010, click here.