Tom Kimbrell, commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Education, told members of the West Pine Bluff Rotary Club Thursday that the Dollarway School District had a successful first year under state control thanks to the leadership of then-superintendent Frank Anthony.
“We could not have accomplished what we did at Dollarway without Frank Anthony at the helm over this past year,” Kimbrell said. “I could never thank Mr. Anthony enough. He made phenomenal progress. The district was hemorrhaging before and now it is stabilized.”
Kimbrell introduced newly appointed Dollarway Superintendent Bobby Acklin who made a few remarks of his own.
“You hope that people understand that after a state takeover there is no business as usual,” Acklin said. “That’s what my charge is. I plan to make sure that we are all accountable for what we are supposed to be doing. I plan to be a part of the district and of each school as well.”
“I will be looking at and observing the urgency of the people,” Acklin said. “The district is not doing well, so they need to have a sense of urgency.”
“It’s about the children of Dollarway and we will preach that every day,” Acklin said. “We want to emphasize the staff that is caring for these kids. We want parents to know who it is that is educating their children and that they can depend upon them to do that. We want people to buy back into this school district. We want people to know that we are up for the challenge.”
The path to redemption
Kimbrell said that the biggest problem with the Dollarway School District prior to last year’s state takeover was a lack of leadership.
“The district suffered from a lack of leadership from the school board through the system,” Kimbrell said. “There was also a lack of capacity and a lack of urgency of meeting the needs of kids.”
Kimbrell said that there is no automatic time limit for a return of the Dollarway district to local control.
“The district was not in fiscal distress but instead was taken over by the state board after two years of state standards violations,” Kimbrell said. “A return to an elected school board is dependent upon an assessment by the state board that the district has made significant progress on its deficiencies.”
Kimbrell said that Acklin is the right man for the next phase of the Dollarway district’s rehabilitation.
“Mr. Anthony stabilized the district and now Mr. Acklin will facilitate the move to healing and growth,” Kimbrell said. “Bobby [Acklin] is a great communicator and a people person. He can get a lot out of people and get them to work tougher. That is what is going to have to occur.”
Kimbrell said that he believes that the district can make a full recovery.
“I think it is very salvageable,” Kimbrell said. “If we can see progress and development of capacity it is reasonable to expect that we can be done within three to four years. Bobby [Acklin] is committed to doing what it takes. He said that he is here to stay.”