Independence County

Excel by Eight in Independence County

Independence County is one of the inaugural community partners for Excel by Eight. Led by the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce, E8 joins other education-related initiatives in the area and incorporates goals that are inclusive of ages birth to eight as a foundation for improving outcomes for the whole child.

The steering committee in Independence County formed four subcommittees based on priorities determined by the Data Walk events, a community input process:

  • Child care quality and availability
  • Oral language and literacy
  • Early childhood development (including physical and social-emotional development)
  • Oral health

In fall 2022, public preschool centers at all four school districts – Batesville, Cedar Ridge, Midland, and Southside – began participating in LENA Grow, a 10-week program intended to measure and improve adult-child interactions in early care. Read more about the program here.

Additionally, Independence County received funds from Delta Dental to launch the Healthy Smiles project. Its aim is to increase the number of young children going to the dentist early, so the focus can be on prevention rather than on filling cavities, capping teeth, and other restorative procedures. All four school districts and STARS Academy are participating, reaching over 1,000 children under age 5.

A second round of Early Development Instrument (EDI) results has been released. The EDI is a population measure of how young children are developing based on the five domains of early childhood development: physical health and wellbeing; social competence; emotional maturity; language and cognitive skills; and communication skills and general knowledge. Kindergarten teachers in each school district completed the assessment for their students in spring 2022.


North-central region of Arkansas, adjacent to the White River

Specialties in agriculture, healthcare, banking and retail

Lyon College

Implemented first community school model in the state

Steering Committee


Jamie Rayford, Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce

Committee Members

Jennifer Douglas, Batesville School District

Amy Finster, White River Health System

Jessica Gilmer, Midland Preschool

Mary-Katherine Hardin, STARS Academy

Novella Humphrey, Southside School District

Kristie Jenkins, ARCare

Crystal Johnson, Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce

Abbi Limbaugh, Cedar Ridge School District

Whitney Massey, Baker Family Dentistry

Lisa Mcghee, Southside Schools

Bani Meharg, Midland Elementary

Dr. Lesley Milton, Tooth Be Told Pediatric Dentistry

Debbie Mize, Child Care Aware

Brandi Nelson, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences North Central

Kimberly Poole, Southside School District

Dr. Julia Roulier, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Mindy Shaw, Batesville Preschool

Brooke Stevenson, Parent

Dr. Nikki Yonts, Lyon College

Read more about E8 Communities

Excel by Eight seeks Communities Manager

Excel by Eight seeks Communities Manager

Excel by Eight (E8) is a statewide initiative that has been developed in partnership with Arkansas Community Foundation and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and in collaboration with over 20 statewide entities. Our vision is a state where all children have a strong...

Independence County hosts Excel by Eight fall 2022 Learning Community

Independence County hosts Excel by Eight fall 2022 Learning Community

For the first time, Excel by Eight hosted its semiannual Learning Community outside of Arkansas’s capital city, bringing more than 30 community leaders to Independence County in mid-October for local site visits and informative sessions. The two-day event took place in the cities of Batesville and Southside and focused on early care and education for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.
Jill Wilson, executive director of two child care centers in Mountain Home, and Garrett Dolan, senior manager of corporate social responsibility at Tyson Foods, served on a panel moderated by Roby Brock, editor-in-chief and host of Talk Business and Politics. The panelists discussed the challenges facing employers and child care providers in Arkansas, including quality of care, workforce, and affordability.