Dollarway School District Superintendent Bobby Acklin said Tuesday that he is committed to shaping an educational system in which every district employee is committed to giving its 1,500 students the same level of quality education that children attending any of the three other public school districts in Jefferson County receive.
Acklin told the Pine Bluff Rotary Club that he accepted the appointment to Dollarway because there is an obvious need for strong leadership to turn around the district’s fortunes.
“I was glad to be asked to talk about Dollarway today,” Acklin said. “It is obvious that not a lot of people have thought about Dollarway very much in the past several years because of the shape that the district is in. Dollarway is in bad shape but in a short period of time we are beginning to see things happen.”
Acklin said it is important to remember that it is not the fault of the students that the district was taken over by the Arkansas Department of Education.
“The children are not the problem here,” Acklin said. “They are just like any other kids. It’s the grownups that we have to take a look at. During our staff training sessions prior to the start of school I told them that if there is anyone employed by this district who is not interested in doing what we have to do to educate these kids then I want them to stand up. I wanted to make sure exactly who these people were, sooner rather than later.”
Acklin said that his passion for K-12 education runs deep.
“This is my calling,” Acklin said. “This is not work to me. The Dollarway School District has been used in the past as an employment agency. People call up and say hire my brother, hire my cousin, hire me. This district is not an employment agency. We need to be hiring only the best instructors that we can hire.”
Acklin said that he has a tough question for anyone who claims to care about the Dollarway School District.
“What happened to Dollarway?” Acklin asked rhetorically. “That is the question I have for them. I will not let the kids suffer because grown-ups are worn out.”
Acklin sought to quell rumors that the Dollarway School District is already doomed.
“I would not be here if I had any inkling that Dollarway would be consolidated any time soon,” Acklin said. “I was happy at my position in the North Little Rock School District. But when [ADE Commissioner] Dr. [Tom] Kimbrell gave me the charge to turn this school district around I was excited and honored to have the opportunity.”
Acklin said that the hiring of Lee Hardman as both athletic director and dean of students was a decision calculated to give as many students as possible the benefit of Hardman’s demonstrated history of building character in children.
“He’s going to be able to do things like get the kids to look you in the eye when you are speaking to them,” Acklin said. “No more of this looking down when people ask them where they go to school. They can look anyone in the eye with pride and say I go to the Dollarway School District.”
Acklin said the opening of a new public charter school within the boundaries of the Dollarway district, while unwelcome, is also another chance for growth.
“We are going to combat charter schools by finding out what they are doing and making sure that we offer educational opportunities that make those students want to be here,” Acklin said.
“I want our kids at Dollarway to feel the same sense of support that any other kids around Jefferson County feel,” Acklin said. “I get emotional sometimes when certain kids get state-of the art stuff and certain kids are told that they will have to make do with less. I want kids in the Dollarway School District to ask themselves if they have pride when they step off that school bus in the morning onto the school campus. I want every one of them to feel a sense of pride in their school and in their school district.”
Acklin repeated a phrase that he said was a motto for the Dollarway district this year.
“If not now, when?” Acklin asked rhetorically. “We are going to do what we are supposed to do. Now is the time for action.”