By Mary Margaret Halford
VICKSBURG – For years, there’s been chatter among people involved with Vicksburg Catholic School (VCS) about adding another piece to the school — an early learning center. It was brought up at Advisory Council meetings; it was discussed by leaders; it just never quite materialized.
But while sitting in his office one day last year, Principal Buddy Strickland got a phone call “out of the blue” from Sam Scott, a graduate of VCS.
“He told me there was a lot for sale adjacent to the school,” Dr. Strickland said. “He said ‘I don’t want to buy the lot for the school and just have it sit there. But if you have a need for it, if you can use it, I’d love to purchase it and donate it to the school.’”
Fast forward about a year to October 2018, and Strickland found himself standing on that very lot surrounded by officials from the City of Vicksburg and the Chamber of Commerce, as well as supporters of VCS.
“From a single phone call, we now find ourselves breaking ground for the construction of our early learning center,” Strickland said.
Lori Tzotzolas, who was tapped to be the Director of the Early Learning Center, is a lifelong resident of Vicksburg who understands the need for such a place in the community.
“I’m so very excited that VCS had the vision and insight to expand our early learning education opportunities and continue our legacy in Catholic education in this community,” Tzotzolas said. “I’m honored and blessed that they trusted in me. I look forward to continuing the legacy and seeing all this come to fruition.”
Pablo Diaz, president and CEO of the Vicksburg Warren Economic Development Partnership said that the center is coming at a pivotal time for Vicksburg.
“This answers the call for better quality of life to attract more jobs and investment in Warren County,” Diaz said. “From 0 to 5, every small child deserves the best education they can have, and this adds to our ability to demonstrate that we can provide that.”
Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs also attended the groundbreaking ceremony, and he, too, noted how important the center will be for the community as a whole.
“This is the kind of vision we’ve always hoped for in this city,” Flaggs said. “It’s what makes this city move forward, and what better way than to start with the youngest generation?”
Flaggs also announced a financial commitment on behalf of the city.
“We owe you a debt of gratitude for this,” he said. “Partnership and collaboration are what speaks volumes about this community.”
But that sense of partnership is nothing new to the VCS and Vicksburg community, as Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education Catherine Cook pointed out at the groundbreaking.
“I don’t need to tell you the rich history you have, you know that already. We are honored to be part of the rich history of Vicksburg,” Cook told the crowd gathered at the groundbreaking. “We’re about to celebrate 158 years here. Today we stand on the shoulders of all those who came before us — priests, sisters and brothers that paved the way.”
Cook added that the center will make VCS the only Catholic school in the state that educates and cares for children from infancy through high-school graduation all in one unified school.
“Not only is VCS still going strong, it’s expanding into the 21st century,” she said. “I’m sure if those early missionary priests, brothers and sisters were here today, they would say with great appreciation, ‘Well done, good and faithful servants.’”
The VCS Early Learning Center will serve those from six-weeks to three years old, and the administration is hoping to open in fall of 2019.
(Mary Margaret Halford is a member of Vicksburg St. Paul Parish.)