State early childhood report blasts Knox

The sky is the limit! These Jessie D. Lay preschool students listen as teacher Becky Blevins reads to them. A new state report says only 1 of 3 Knox County students are ready for Kindergarten. Studies show students like these that complete Preschool or a Head Start are much more likely to succeed academically than other children.
The sky is the limit! These Jessie D. Lay preschool students listen as teacher Becky Blevins reads to them. A new state report says only 1 of 3 Knox County students are ready for Kindergarten. Studies show students like these that complete Preschool or a Head Start are much more likely to succeed academically than other children.

By Jay Nolan


“Please, get your children into Preschool or Head Start.” That plea from Jessie D. Lay Elementary Principal Jeff Frost points to one solution for what is a major local problem. Our youngest children are unprepared for school.

In fact, the Kentucky Governor’s office of early childhood and Kentucky Center for Education and workforce statistics released a report this week that paints a sad profile of children in Knox County. Specifically, it states:

  • Two out of every three children here that start Kindergarten are rated not ready. This is far below the state average of 50%.
  • In the academic/cognitive area, Knox children are 7% below their state peers.
  • In physical development, only 41.9% are average or above, compared to 50.1% statewide.

“Kindergarten is now an academic level,” says Becky Blevins, a pre-school teacher on Frost’s staff.

She nods as fellow preschool teacher Mary Jane Callihan explains, “The social interaction skills, structural routine and academic basics like learning letters and numbers, all taught in preschool and head start, are critical to early educational success.” “Also, communications with other kids and adults – language skills – are key,” adds principal Frost.

But while over 80% of Knox County four year olds qualify for admission to Preschool or a head start program (based on the family meeting the financial screen for free or reduced lunch), many parents don’t send their child. Why? Some facts that may contribute to these low early childhood profiles are also mentioned in the report.

  • 73 of every 1000 of our three and four year olds are born to 15-19 year old mothers. This is significantly higher compared to 43 per thousand statewide.
  • 28.8% are born to non-high school graduate moms compared to only18% statewide.
  • 9.7% of children under 17 are living with grandparents, compared to 5.6% statewide.
  • 51.6% of Knox children are living in poverty compared to only 30.2% across the state.

Whatever the reason, educators claim not getting a good start early translates into poor results later on.

Third graders in Knox County score woefully below state averages. Only 33.4% of math and 39.1% of reading students here scored proficient or distinguished in 2013-2014. The statewide scores are 45.8 and 54.1% respectively, according to the report.

Frost mentions that programs like “Cradle to Career,” which target early childhood learning, are gaining momentum throughout the state. The governor has also spared education from several rounds of state budget cuts.

But still, based on this report’s findings, and listening as Frost explains the situation he and his staff battle daily, the challenge locally is great.

To view the full report, go to our website at, or visit