Schools maintain high ranking

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The school board devoted most of Monday’s meeting to an annual report to the public, stating Eureka Springs ranks 47 out of 250 school districts in Arkansas, a slight improvement over last year’s ranking of 48. The high school ranks 11 out of 262, middle school 63 out of 318, and elementary school 264 out of 480 schools.

Supt. Bryan Pruitt began with an overview saying enrollment of 601 has dropped slightly from last year, but noted that school population can fluctuate in a town based on tourism. Girls outnumber boys by a slight margin, and the number of Hispanic students has risen from 37 to 51.

The district has $8.3 million on hand, and $12.2 million in bonded debt. “We hope to be debt-free in 2040,” Pruitt said.

In the elementary school, a new entrance area provides better security, and a sidewalk has been added for students boarding buses behind the school. The middle school has new lockers, and the district has purchased a new bus and a Ford Expedition for student transport to extracurricular events.

The middle school parking lot has been paved, and the high school lot will follow.

An outdoor classroom is coming, and the elementary school will see more renovation. “We’re getting closer to our FEMA building for the campus and the public,” Pruitt said. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay 75 percent of a shelter building, which will be open to the community during non-school hours. Pruitt said the district might receive a grant within a year.

A grant is also expected to pay for a five-year program to hire a behavioral specialist to identify those who might be a threat to themselves or others.

The elementary and middle schools have adopted a new reading curriculum, and Elementary Principal Clare Lesieur said students are spending more time reading and have more choices at their own performance levels. She said the increased focus on technology in the lower elementary will have great benefits, and students take state tests on computers. The new computer lab features large touch-screen computers, and each classroom will have a keyboarding program.

Middle School Principal Cindy Holt agreed with the importance of the new reading curriculum. “We’ve needed this,” she said. The school has extended the Eureka Great Minds math program to 8th grade this year, and it has yielded good results. The school also has had an aligned science curriculum for the past three years.

High school principal David Gilmore said enrollment is down “a few,” to 172. The faculty has had some turnover, but Gilmore said new teachers have maintained the school’s standards of academic excellence.

A program to give each student a Chromebook has worked well, with “very few issues,” Gilmore said. The school offers after-school tutoring, part of the high school’s overall effort to improve grades and attendance.

“The outdoor classroom is off to a good start,” he said. The slab was poured this summer, and a student interested in architecture designed the building. The shop class will build it, and the Ag class is designing raised beds. He expects grants to pay for most of the project, and hopes to have the exterior complete before the Christmas break.

Basketball season will soon start, and Gilmore said the Red-White games played to an audience with “a lot of enthusiasm,” and the boys’ and girls’ teams both have big expectations for the season.

Guidance counselor Rachal Hyatt said. high school students performed well on Advanced Placement tests, beating the state average in five out of six subjects. All juniors take the ACT test, and the school has focused on practice and preparation for that. The average score rose from 18 to 22 in one year.

Following the regular meeting, the board approved a limited sick-leave payout. Those with more than 120 days of sick leave can take reimbursement at $65 per day, the amount the school would have to pay for a substitute teacher. The policy will apply to both classified and licensed personnel, and it would take 10 years to accrue enough days to qualify. “This is an incentive for our employees who don’t take sick leave,” Pruitt said.

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