3M Foundation grants $100K to Decatur pre-kindergarten program, will create class for 18 preschoolers

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The 3M Foundation on Tuesday approved a generous grant of $100,000 to the Decatur City School System to add another voluntary pre-kindergarten classroom. The 3M Foundation grant will allow 18 more Decatur 4-year-olds to get an early start next year in adjusting to school.

“Pre-K is so critical to a student’s development,” West Decatur Elementary School Principal Datie Priest said. “It puts students on a different playing field because they enter kindergarten knowing what will be expected.”

3M, a member of the Business Council of Alabama, operates a film and specialty materials manufacturing plant in Decatur. The company has been a stable economic engine and a significant source of jobs for north Alabama for 50 years.

And the 3M Traffic Safety Systems Division in Guin just celebrated its 60th anniversary since breaking ground in 1954. The BCA named the 3M Guin plant the 2013 Manufacturer of the Year in the medium-size category last April.

Decatur 3M Plant Manager Jim Fincher was interviewed by the Decatur Daily. “This is an outstanding program and I hope others get involved,” he said.

The BCA’s 2014 legislative agenda includes active support for a 10-year Pre-K full-funding schedule. Governor Robert Bentley’s chief of staff, David Perry, said Bentley will seek more money for Pre-K for next fiscal year.

Decatur school foundation Executive Director Jesslyn Reeves said the goal since 2009 has been to raise $1 million to support Decatur schools. She told the newspaper that this donation “puts us over the top.”

In addition, the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce’s Quality Education Committee is dedicated to support the Pre-K expansion. The Chamber is led by BCA board member John Seymour. Rep. Terri Collins, R-Morgan, also helped secure grants totaling nearly $380,000 for Decatur’s “Starting Strong” Pre-K initiative. The initiative also was supported by the Morgan County Legislative Delegation.

Decatur City School Superintendent Ed Nichols the system will be able to add to the existing 11 Pre-K classrooms. It costs about $120,000 to supply a Pre-K classroom and pay a certified teacher and aide.

Decatur has more than 150 enrolled Pre-K students and another 50 are on a waiting list.

“The kids that came through pre-K had better social skills because they had been in a classroom setting,” said Priest, a former classroom teacher. Priest said it’s the little things children learn, such as how to write in a straight line, that readies them for school.

The 2013 Legislature appropriated $28.5 million, an increase of $9 million, to expand Alabama’s nationally recognized Pre-K program and enable 1,700 additional 4-year-olds to enroll. About 10 percent of the state’s eligible 4-year-olds are enrolled in Pre-K.

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