Independence County

Excel by Eight in Independence County

Out of five goals in Independence County, one is to strengthen the foundation for oral language and literacy. The E8 steering committee was awarded a $60,000 grant to invest in LENA, a professional development opportunity focused on increasing adult-child interactions.

Research shows that increased verbal interactions between children and the adults who care for them, called conversational turns, are one of the most important factors in language development. Program participants included 4-year-olds and educators from early childhood centers in Independence County’s four school districts – Batesville, Cedar Ridge, Midland, and Southside. Watch this video from Independence County to see LENA in action.

Through weekly data reports and coaching sessions, teachers were able to implement a more equitable talk environment in real time. Children who started the program in the “low talk” range, about 15 conversational turns per hour, increased their conversational turn rate by 42% by the final week. Overall, each center saw an increase in the quantity of adult-child interactions across all children during the 10-week program:

  • 96% of teachers reported seeing positive changes in children’s language development.
  • 91% of teachers reported feeling more confident in their teaching abilities after the first five weeks of the program.

Planning and strategy development in Independence County are ongoing in areas of physical child development, social-emotional development, oral health, and access to child care. With the help of the federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars, child care facilities in Independence County added a total of 128 infant and toddler slots, a 50% increase in county-wide capacity.


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

LaToshia Carroll, Cedar Ridge School District
Jennifer Douglas, Batesville School District
Amy Finster, White River Health System
Jessica Gilmer, Midland School District
Mary-Katherine Hardin, STARS Academy
Gracie Hellums, STARS Academy
Novella Humphrey, Southside School District
Kristie Jenkins, Southside School District
Crystal Johnson, Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce
Abbi Limbaugh, Cedar Ridge School District
Whitney Massey, Baker Family Dentistry
Lisa McGhee, Southside School District
Bani Meharg, Midland School District
Dr. Lesley Milton, Tooth Be Told Pediatric Dentistry
Debbie Mize, Child Care Aware of Northcentral Arkansas
Brandi Nelson, UAMS North Central
Leslie Patterson, Pinnacle Pointe
Kimberly Poole, Southside School District
Dr. Julia Roulier, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
Mindy Shaw, Batesville School District
Dr. Nikki Yonts, Lyon College

Read more about E8 Communities

Jefferson County hosts Fall 2023 Learning Community

Jefferson County hosts Fall 2023 Learning Community

Representatives from each of Excel by Eight’s six communities came together in Pine Bluff for two days of relationship building, learning, and idea sharing at the Fall 2023 Learning Community. Thank you to the Jefferson County steering committee and the team at the Arkansas River Education Service Cooperative for being such gracious hosts!

How an emphasis on early childhood helped usher in a $25 million investment for the city of Batesville

How an emphasis on early childhood helped usher in a $25 million investment for the city of Batesville

During an August 2023 special election, residents of Batesville voted overwhelmingly in favor of four ballot issues that marked a turning point for the city. These issues secured a $25 million investment for the expansion and improvement of the city’s parks and recreation facilities as well as an additional $110 million to go toward the construction of a new water treatment system. Opportunities to reshape a city’s infrastructure and enrich its social and recreational offerings without a tax increase seldom arise. But when they do, seizing these moments requires more than a stroke of luck; it demands collaboration, a willingness to learn, and data-informed planning.