Dollarway’s Acklin fields questions about test scores, teachers at town hall

Parents and teachers in the Dollarway School District expressed concern about low test scores, habitually absent and uncertified teachers and not enough pay for those educators Thursday night at Robert F. Morehead Middle School.

The town hall meeting was led by first-year Dollarway Superintendent Bobby Acklin, who answered questions from the public.

The Arkansas Department of Education has been in control of the district for the past two years — a result of repeated fiscal and academic problems.

Acklin reported an 18 percent increase in literacy scores this past year, and he said this improvement led to the state recently sending him a letter notifying him that the district likely will be removed from outside control. The Arkansas Board of Education is expected to vote on that action in June.

Despite the spike in test scores, Dollarway High School was still placed on the state’s academic “distress list” in April.

Acklin said he and the teachers are working to improve the scores.

Improvement must start in the classroom, Acklin said, and if the students’ teachers do not show up, a problem arises.

Parents, other teachers and Acklin himself all spoke about multiple teachers — some of whom have been fired — who have more than 30 days of absences from work.

Acklin said some of those absences were the result of teachers preparing for retirement, but he also acknowledged this has not been the sole cause of the issue, and he said he’s taking steps to amend these faults.

Audience members also expressed concern about some teachers lacking certification to teach certain subjects.

State Sen. Stephanie Flowers told Acklin she recently reviewed an audit that revealed that there is more than one Dollarway teacher who does not have the proper certification.

Acklin responded that there was only one instance of this. A teacher was hired with the expectation that he would pass a necessary exam. He didn’t do so and was immediately fired, Acklin said.

Flowers said there were more instances in the audit of uncertified teachers, but Acklin moved on to other topics.

Teacher pay was an issue fervently pushed forward by the audience. Parents said to attract new high-quality educators, the pay must supplement the job. As of right now, parents and teachers don’t believe sufficient funds are available to make this possible.

“I won’t be happy until our teachers are paid as much as the others in the region,” Acklin said.

This is a step that will take time and work, above all else. Acklin said the finance department has been looking at options to give the staff raises where applicable.

“I want to rid our school district of any negative labels currently attached,” Acklin said. “We have to give the school back to the community, and with their support we will move forward.