Dollarway board to meet with ADE officials over grant loss

The Dollarway School District Board of Directors will hold a special called meeting Thursday evening to meet with representatives of the Arkansas Department of Education in the wake of that body’s decision to revoke a $1.8 million school improvement grant for Dollarway High School.

A March 26 letter from ADE Deputy Commissioner Tony Wood to Dollarway Superintendent Bettye Dunn-Wright said the funds were being removed from the district effective March 30 because of a failure to follow recommendations from ADE staff.

Board president George Stepps said the Thursday meeting was requested by the board in order to find out why the decision was made to end the three-year grant program just months after it began in the fall of 2011.

“We have some concerns about the grant and how it was administered, especially the timetable for grant implementation,” Stepps said. “The Arkansas Department of Education outlined the things that would happen at the board meeting in January. We thought we had time to do the things they asked us to do. Maybe they can provide us with some answers at the meeting.”

Stepps said one of the concerns expressed to the district by ADE officials was the issue of absences.

“They were talking about teacher and student absences but it is hard to tell teachers that they can’t take sick leave,” Stepps said.

Stepps said the Thursday meeting will provide an opportunity for the board to seek clarification from ADE Commissioner Tom Kimbrell and his staff on how the timetable for changes at the high school should have been implemented.

Board member Gene Stewart said the decision of the ADE is painful to the district.

“The loss of the school improvement grant is an unfortunate situation, especially when our district is grasping at measures to provide our students with a better education,” Stewart said. “The abrupt withdrawal is hurtful. The children of Dollarway High School will be deprived of important learning opportunities as a result of the loss of this grant. School staff who bought into the school improvement grant planning and implementation partnership into the implementation process will see their efforts as futile. Parents will see children of Dollarway High School lose valuable learning experiences.

“I really wish the ADE would have at least given us one full school year so we could properly assess its results,” Stewart said.

Dunn-Wright was not available for comment Wednesday afternoon.

ADE view

ADE director of communications Seth Blomeley said the district was too slow to implement the required changes.

“There was an accelerated reading program that wasn’t fully set up,” Blomeley said. “There was a math program that was supposed to be set up but there didn’t appear to be any activity in setting up that program. There was a math and literacy coach that they didn’t hire. That would have been something they needed to do.”

Blomely said he grant called for a change in the culture of the Dollarway district and that not enough was done to make that change.

“There really wasn’t a lot of evidence that there were a lot of extracurricular programs set up tied to academics,” Blomeley said to provide an example of a change in the culture of Dollarway High School that had not yet been made.