Local educators confident about fate of districts

Thursday, June 13, 2002

A great deal of media attention has recently been given to the activities of the Arkansas Blue Ribbon Commission on Public Education. The Commission, which was established by the Arkansas legislature in 2001 to study the inequities in the state's education system, has announced its plan for regional high schools throughout the state. According to the panel's findings, these high schools would help ensure equal educational opportunities for students throughout the state.

Just what is a regional high school? According to the most recent information on the Arkansas Department of Education website, a regional high school "would provide an alternative to school district consolidation for grades nine-12. Either existing high schools or newly created open-enrollment charter schools would be allowed to apply for the status of regional high school."

The requirements for regional high schools continue stating that "there would be at least one regional high school per 'defined region' guaranteeing access to all Arkansas students. The defined regions would be established by the State based upon the number of high school students available to attend."

The Commission asserts that the benefit of a regional high school would be an advanced curriculum, which would result in great student achievement. The proposed recommendations state that the curriculum must include "a variety of AP courses or the International Baccalaureate program; a variety of vocational courses; a rich foreign language, mathematics, and science curriculum; and an increased opportunity for concurrent college credit and Associate Degree attainment as an option for students."

Although the most Buffalo Islanders have just recently become familiar with the Blue Ribbon Commission and its task, area superintendents have been watching the group's actions since its inception. Although the information regarding regional high schools may seem alarming to some area residents, local superintendents remain optimistic about the future of their districts.

"We're in good shape financially and academically," said BIC Superintendent George Edd Holland. "I'm not too alarmed at this point."

However, he did note that some adjustments are inevitable, regardless of the Commission's final report. "There are definitely going to be a lot of changes," he noted. "Most of the change will be in the amount of money needed to meet the requirements."

Holland added that one of the biggest changes likely to affect BIC is the addition of new faculty to meet the enhanced curriculum guidelines.

Manila Superintendent Charolette Wagner was also not worried by the regional high school plans. "I haven't addressed the issue (of regional high schools) with the school board," Wagner explained. "But I'm sure we will try to meet the requirements of a regional high school."

Riverside Acting Superintendent Gale Yates shared Holland's and Wagner's confidence, but he was disturbed by last week's announcement by the Commission that an additional $1 billion would be needed to fix the inadequacies in the state's educational system. Yates pointed to the fact that the state was unable to grant the promised $1,000 raises to the state's educators this year as an example of the absurdity of the Commission's proposal.

"If they can't pay for what we've got, why add anything else?" Yates said.

Committee members for the Commission were chosen based upon their familiarity with the state's education system. The 25 members of the Commission are Ms. Stacy Pittman, Little Rock; Mr. Robert McGinnis, West Memphis; Mr. Frank Anthony, Pine Bluff; Ms. Charlie Cole Chaffin, Benton; Ms. Judith G. Donovan, Searcy; Dr. Charles Dunn, Arkadelphia; Dr. Benny Gooden, Fort Smith; Dr. Reed Greenwood, Fayetteville; Mr. Gene Gregory, Arkansas City; Ms. Pat L. Harris, Bryant; Mr. Wayne Hartsfield, Searcy; Ms. Shelby Hillman, Carlisle; Mr. Randy Hughes, Delight;

Mr. Phil Jones, Sr., Jonesboro; Dr. Don Love, Springdale; Mr. David Matthews, Rogers; Mr. Hugh McDonald, Little Rock; Ms. Kathy McFetridge, Springdale; Dr. Martha McNair, Fayetteville; Mr. Kevin Moore, Russellville; Ms. Alisia Ramirez-Hartz, Fayetteville; Mr. Ulicious Reed, Marvell; Mr. Larry Ross, North Little Rock; Mr. Keith Stokes, Dardanelle; Ms. Johnettee W. Walker, Wilmot.

The Blue Ribbon Commission can be reached via e-mail at abrcpe@arkleg.state.ar.us.

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