A Jackson County school is the first public school in the state to receive certification making it eligible for state-funded vouchers through a pilot preschool initiative.

Because Crothersville Elementary School recently was awarded the Paths to QUALITY Level 3 designation, it can accept those vouchers from low-income families who qualify for the On My Way Pre-K program.

The school also has an opportunity to apply for grant money through the program, which will begin at the start of the new school year in August.

Last year, Jackson County and four other Hoosier counties — Allen, Lake, Marion and Vanderburgh — were selected to take part in the program in an effort to give more 4-year-olds access to quality, early-childhood education.

“This supplemental income will help sustain our preschool program in the midst of state school budget cuts,” said Crothersville Elementary Principal Chris Marshall. “Secondly, it takes us to the last step of achieving National Association of Early Youth Education, Level 4 accreditation.”

Paths to QUALITY is the state’s voluntary rating and improvement program through the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration. A Level 3 out of the four levels means the school will or has implemented a curriculum that supports children’s learning and school readiness.

Marshall said there is an application process and a rigorous set of quality standards that have to be met before an auditor makes a site visit to determine if the program qualifies as Level 3.

“This process caused us to re-evaluate every aspect of our educational program,” he said. “Organization, documentation, parent and staff training played a major role during this audit.”

Once enrolled in On My Way Pre-K, qualified families can receive vouchers and choose from any of the approved programs available in the area. Those include community and faith-based programs and public or charter schools rated at Level 3, such as Crothersville, or Level 4.

Dan Hodge, executive director of the Jackson County Education Coalition, said the county’s goal is to have at least 10 On My Way Pre-K providers by the beginning of the coming school year.

Currently there are four other sites that have been certified for On My Way Pre-K — Head Start, Terri’s Playhouse, Child Care Network at Girls Inc. and Margaret R. Brown Elementary School, all in Seymour.

By the April 30 deadline, 97 families had registered to participate, he said.

Crothersville preschool teacher Karra Lucas and preschool aide Ellen Prince played a pivotal role in evaluating the Paths to QUALITY 3 standards, assessing the school’s environment, creating documentation and providing enriching academic instruction in the classroom for students, Marshall said.

The school is seeking to obtain the highest quality of early education possible for Jackson County preschoolers, he said.

“We compassionately believe that excellence in early education will generate the biggest academic gains for our children down the educational road,” he said.

On Tuesday, the school held a celebration for the accomplishment.