School District gets high marks and innovations

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Facilities Director Mike Dwyer announced at the January Eureka Springs School Board meeting that dumpster loads of debris were being hauled away as B-100 on the Community Center property, former site of the high school, was being demolished. This task was part of the transfer of management of the property from the school district to the Community Center Foundation. Demolition was completed by late winter.

Teachers informed the board of intervention and alternative learning programs intended to provide extra focus for elementary and middle school students who needed it. High school principal Kathy Lavender noted the high school was experiencing fewer failures, and 80 out of 200 students received only A’s and B’s, which made them eligible for the Renaissance program.

At the February meeting, Supt. Bryan Pruitt announced the district had been awarded a $109,650 grant for a state-of-the-art greenhouse from the Arkansas Department of Education. He intended to hire an agriculture teacher and begin a horticulture curriculum.

In March, the board voted to update its stipend schedule for teachers who take on extra responsibilities such as coaching sports or the Quiz Bowl teams or preparing the Arkansas Comprehensive School Improvement Plan. Elementary school principal Clare Lesieur said the stipends were deserved and do not even touch what teachers do for the students.

Third grade teacher Kelly Mathis said third and fourth graders are participating in a study to see the effects of yoga on stress reduction and behavior in the classroom.

The board extended Pruitt’s contract for one year, through June 2020.

After an Executive Session at the April meeting, the board accepted Lavender’s resignation. Pruitt said Lavender is retiring so she can travel and visit her kids.

The board also voted to engage the Excel Energy Group to replace approximately 2100 lighting fixtures and associated lamps and ballasts with LED lighting in all three schools, administrative building and bus barn. After energy savings incentives were applied, cost of the project was $170,907, so with reductions in energy bills and maintenance the district would see a payback on its investment in 5.5 years.

Richard Mann, high school history, speech and drama teacher, said several students from lower socio-economic group for whom English was not their first language had dropped out of high school in 2015 to enter the workforce. A group of faculty members studied what the schools could do to reverse this, and learned the best approach would be to start at the pre-school level helping kids with language and reading skills.

Pruitt announced in May that David Gilmore, principal of Berryville High School for the past 16 years, was hired as the high school principal.

Two ESHS students placed first in their divisions at the statewide SkillsUSA competition, and the board approved sending them to the national competition June 19-23 in Louisville. Tyler Crawford won in the plumbing category and Cole Rains finished first in masonry. ESHS students swept the masonry prizes, with Kyle Rains finishing second and Jesus Balleza coming in third.

At the June meeting, the board approved a plan to upgrade its security cameras. IT Director Pat Todd said there were 60 five-year old cameras, and they ran on an old computer system no longer supported. Todd said he sometimes had to reboot the system to get an indistinct image on a monitor. Cost of the project was $73,018, some covered by funds from a federal E-rate grant.

In August, the board awarded the bid to construct the 30×60-ft. greenhouse to Davis Construction of Harrison. Pruitt said he had learned the cost to make the facility compliant with regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act bumped up the cost from the $109,000 covered by a grant to $204,000. He assured the board the district had the extra funds.

Pruitt also said a new HVAC system would be installed in the middle school gym.

At the first meeting after the new school year began, band and choir teacher Barry Milner said he wanted to raise enough money to take 30 band students to Orlando during spring break of 2018 to perform at Disney World. He laid out his tentative schedule, and said the trip would cost $960 per student and $1036 for each adult chaperone. By year’s end, Milner decided to continue fundraising for another school year and hopefully go in April 2019. His plan was to make the trip every four years.

Gilmore and basketball coach Brian Rambo announced they wanted to host the regional basketball tournament at the end of the season and the state tournament at the end of the 2018-2019 season. Gilmore said these events would be great for the students, good exposure for the school and a boon to the town. The decision for who would host the tournament would be made in January 2018.

Gilmore also announced the slab had been poured for the greenhouse.

Pruitt announced there were a total of 612 students in the three schools: 231 in elementary, 186 in middle school and 195 in high school. There were also 38 attending pre-school.

During the Report to the Public in October, Pruitt said he was pursuing a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to build a safe room on campus big enough for everyone from all three schools. The building would also be available during a community disaster.

He mentioned the C-4 project was progressing toward its goal of opening in September 2018, and Gilmore said as many as 20 students had already expressed interest in participating.

Counselor Rachal Hyatt said Eureka Springs ranked 48th of 248 districts in the state in standardized test scores. She added that third graders were above the national average in English, middle school scores exceed the national average in most subjects, and ninth and tenth graders were above the national average across the board.

Lesieur said in their effort of “launching leadership,” the elementary school has been following guidelines of “The Leader in Me” as presented in The Seven Habits of Happy Kids by Steven Covey. This program intends to create “a culture of student empowerment based on the idea every child can be a leader.”

Both board president Chris McClung and board member Al Larson were re-elected, and Debbie Davis, who did not run again, agreed to serve one more year.

In November, the board voted to hold school board elections in May instead of September and to start the 2018-2019 school year during the week of August 13.

Agriculture teacher Jason McAfee commented students participated in a lockdown drill. He also said students involved in creating the outdoor classroom project – a collaboration between the SKILLS program, the EAST program and FAA – were pursuing grants.