Glynn County’s educators and community leaders have begun an effort to improve local early education opportunities by taking part in a statewide initiative to establish “early education empowerment zones.”

Glynn County is now among several of these zones, which are scattered around the state.

The effort to make Glynn County an early education empowerment zone began with the United Way of Coastal Georgia, which is currently running a campaign to promote educational opportunities for all ages in Glynn County.

Virginia Brown, president and CEO of the local United Way, learned about the opportunity and pursued it with the help of Sung Hui Lewis, assistant superintendent of Glynn County Schools.

“We both agreed that it was just a wonderful opportunity for our community,” Brown said.

Georgia was one of 20 states in 2014 to receive funding from the federal government through the “Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge” grant. Georgia’s Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL), also called Bright from the Start, received a $51.7 million grant, and the department outlined a plan to reform Georgia’s system of early learning and development.

That plan included a project to create early education empowerment zones around the state that can serve as case studies for implementing strategies and fostering community collaboration. Counties with the greatest needs were first identified.

Community coordinators serve each zone. Jill O’Meara now serves as coordinator for Glynn County’s empowerment zone.

As coordinator, she provides resources, contacts and ideas while pushing productive conversations.

Last week, O’Meare helped coordinate a local meeting with the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students (GEEARS), a nonprofit that partners with DECAL and has developed a framework for school readiness that details strategies with which to improve learning and healthy development for children.

“It’s a document that really helps communities figure out the best practices, but also what they want to implement in their community to improve school readiness” said Vett Vandiver, director of communications for GEEARS.

The meeting, held at the Golden Isles College and Career Academy on May 7, included local school administrators, community leaders and educators.

“We’re actually taking notes from today’s meeting and we’re going to put everything that we’ve done today into a really succinct report and share that with everyone who’s here today,” Vandiver said.

The meeting provided local stakeholders an opportunity to share what services are currently offered and to discuss the needs they have and barriers they face.

The next step will be continued roundtable discussions hosted by United Way, Brown said. The next roundtable discussion will take place today.

“This is not something that one organization or an agency is guiding and leading, it is truly collaborative,” Brown said.

Working with state partners will be beneficial for Glynn County, Brown said.

“What we’ve learned is anytime we can connect it to a statewide agenda, we can leverage what’s going on locally and get so much more done more quickly, but still maintain our own individual identify,” she said.

The end goal is to enhance school readiness education in communities across the state, including Glynn County, Vandiver said.

“That starts at a community level,” she said.

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