Old Parrish High looked at for Head Start, adult ed

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PARRISH - The Jasper Area Family Services Center wants to put in a Head Start and adult education program at the old Parrish High School, delighting city leaders.

Donna Kilgore, executive director of the Jasper Area Family Services Center, spoke to the Parrish Town Council on Thursday night during a work session held before its formal meeting.

Kilgore said she had talked to Mayor La'Tisha Oliver and looked at the old school, calling it "a great location" for the plans, which involve bringing resources to the community. 

"The goal is to pretty much make that a community hub," said Dr. Suzanne Snow, who Kilgore introduced as a co-worker. 

"The center plans to apply for Head Start money when it opens," she said. "We are very interested in that first wing in the front of the high school." Officials identified that area as once being Miss James' class and the old math and science classroom, on a newer L-shaped section. 

While using two or three classrooms for Head Start, a learning center for adults could also be offered connected with adult education. "We do a lot of different things," from parenting to literacy, Kilgore said.

Some preliminary plans have already been discussed in the form of a draft, which includes space and costs, including shared costs of utilities. She said if the council was interested, officials could wait for funding to come through, and then they could come up with a final draft of plans. 

"We would have someone to maintain and clean that space," Kilgore said, noting access would also be needed to the small kitchen in the old home economics area. "We would also like some access to the gym and then we would work on having the appropriate playground place in the back that has to be fenced in. 

Children up to ages 2 or 3 would be served in two or three classrooms with Head Start, Kilgore said. 

Snow indicated she is also familiar with the old Parrish school.

"Our goal is to obviously work with the children and make a difference with every one of them, and educate the parents at the same time. It is to work with those parents and with Bevill State (Community College) if they don't have a GED" as a part of adult education. That could also lead to career tech if they want to follow a new career. 

Snow noted she is a former principal in Jasper "and literacy is my passion." She is working as a school readiness coordinator for the county. She wants a site used in the day to help parents who are having difficulty reading. 

"Children who are leaving school and are below grade level, then they can come there, and we can get them on grade level," Snow said. "My vision is to have the University of Alabama, Samford, Bevill, North Alabama - some university or college to partner with us and have their interns come and work with the students so they have innovative ways."

She said to change the direction of local students and parents "will improve Parrish and Walker County as a whole." 

Snow said instruction would be offered to parents on how to work with children at home, noting that with the COVID-19 pandemic more homeschooling and virtual education are expected in the near future. "We will work with the parents of these young children," he said. 

Oliver said she would check on any potential problems with the building, including heating and cooling and any after effects from a 2018 fire there. This month the facility was used as a polling place for the first time since the fire. Kilgore said she feels the center can use some grant money to do things such as paint and polish floors. 

The mayor said officials had been disappointed when the school was closed down. However, introducing these educational programs would make the facility active again for some of the purposes for which it was constructed. 

"Me and the council, we are all about the kids," Oliver said, saying they want to do "anything we can do to help benefit the children of the families."

Council members also indicated they would be in favor of the idea. District 1 Councilman William Smith said he was interested in also reopening the library at the school if possible, which Snow said that could assist with literacy efforts. 

As for whether the town would be paid for space, Kilgore said some agreement could be worked out, possibly including actions such as cost share and rent. An insurance certificate of coverage could be given to the town. Those working at the school for the center's programs would be under their direction and would undergo background checks. Kilgore said they could add to the security camera coverage. 

During the formal meeting later, Oliver said the center is "more good news" for the town and the school building. "It has been my goal, ever since I came on the council, to do something with our school that is school-related because it is a school," she said.

"We are excited about utilizing our school for what it was originally intended for, and that is a school," she said, saying it would be a good thing for the town, as she didn't want "a mini-mall" in the facility. She said the community could come together for the project. 

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