The Pine Bluff School District is beginning to retake ground previously lost in its struggle against declining academic performance, Superintendent Linda Watson told the Pine Bluff Rotary Club on Tuesday.
“We had 75 Arkansas scholars who graduated from Pine Bluff High School this May with $1.2 million in scholarship funds,” Watson said. “This is the most scholarship money our students have received in the past several years.”
Watson said that when she first came to the PBSD in 2012 she immersed herself in all of the available data on the state of the school district.
“I immediately looked at the data and determined that I wanted to see a 5 percent increase in literacy and math as well as a 5 percent increase in our graduation rate,” Watson said. “I wanted to decrease the dropout rate and increase the level of parental and community involvement with the school district.”
Watson said 70 more students graduated in the spring of this year than did in the spring of 2012.
“We have received funding for additional pre-K programs,” Watson said. “We are making sure that district funds are targeted at students and student achievement. I have hired math and literacy coaches to get our students to where they should be. We have leadership development with our principals and I brought in Evans Newton Inc. to work with our teachers.”
Evans Newton works with teachers in a professional development format to increase instructional effectiveness.
“If a child can read by the third grade then we won’t have to worry about how many prisons we are building,” Watson said. “We have a credit recovery program at First Ward Alternative School for students who fail a class to be able to earn those lost credits and so be able to earn a diploma. We had four students who received diplomas last year due to their participation in the credit recovery program.”
Watson said that while Greenville Elementary School was closed at the end of the last school year because of declining enrollment it is hoped that a successful district turnaround strategy will end any further need for such action.
“The district’s partnership with the University of Virginia school turnaround program is very important to the future of this school district,” Watson said. “It is being paid for by the business community and we are so thankful for that.
“I still say the PBSD is in a state of urgency but there is hope for the future,” Watson said. “The district was awarded two 21st Century grants worth $1.2 million. It will be a partnership between the Boys and Girls Club of Jefferson County and the school district to provide after-school and summer programs.”
Watson said the continued expansion of the Common Core curriculum across the grade levels has necessitated additional training for some teachers.
“Under Common Core, math that was taught in the sixth and seventh grades is now taught in the fifth grade,” Watson said. “The fifth-grade teachers are used to teaching all subjects to their students so our sixth- and seventh-grade teachers worked with them to improve their specialized math skills.”
Watson said problems in the PBSD has took years to develop and the solutions to those problems will in turn take time to work.