Riverside High School to offer associate degrees

Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Riverside High School Principal Jeff Priest explains a new incentive program allowing Riverside High School students to earn a high school diploma and at the same time an associate degree.

Jeff Priest, Riverside High School Principal, shared an important announcement during the Dec. 7 Riverside School Board meeting. Priest presented the board with information on a program allowing students to earn an Associates Degree.

Priest began by recognizing the presence of Dr. Allen Mooneyhan, dean of distance learning at ASU Newport, and Shey Williams, Riverside High School counselor, commending their efforts concerning the R.E.A.D incentive.

After more than a year of work and planning the R.E.A.D. incentive is prepared to take affect in the 2016 school year for students entering the ninth grade. When completed, students in the program will not only graduate with a high school diploma but an associates degree as well.

"I spent 10 years coaching and had a couple of state tournaments and I'm just as excited tonight as I was for some of those games because it's a game changer for us," Priest said.

According to Priest the average college graduation rate in Arkansas is 37.3 percent, and hopes are high that R.E.A.D. will raise that percentage for Riverside students. At least two schools in Arkansas, Green Brier and Hot Springs Lakeside, are offering similar programs on campus.

"We want to be at the finish line first," Priest said, "We don't want to be second or third or fourth and offer it. We want to be there first. I'm proud to announce to you tonight we are there first."

Priest informed the board as of now Riverside offers 39 hours of concurrent credit. The program will allow that number to rise to 60 credits making it possible for students to acquire an associates degree through ASU Newport. Priest shared the cost of concurrent credit per semester, the number of students that have taken classes since 2011 and an approximate cost per year with R.E.A.D.

Priest shared a degree plan designed for students entering the ninth grade. The plan is flexible and students will be able to enroll in later grades. Priest emphasized students who enroll too late to complete the program by graduation will still have an academic and financial head start in pursuit of a degree.

Seven faculty members at Riverside hold a Masters Degree meaning the school is able to offer the courses without applying for charter status.

"None of this would be possible without these seven teachers because with them we are able to offer the concurrent credit here on our campus for a fraction. If they did not have their masters degree it would not be possible. So, they deserve all the credit for that and I'm very thankful," Priest said.

Priest gave examples of cost of tuition in Arkansas for two year degrees ranging from $16,000 to $66,000. The cost per credit hour for Riverside will be $16 with a total of $964 to complete the degree.

Priest explained Riverside would be able to fully fund the degree at no cost to students. Of the two schools currently offering degree programs only one, Hot Springs Lakeside, is free to students. Those enrolling in R.E.A.D. will sign a contract stating should they withdraw or fail a course the student will reimburse the school $48.

In order to enroll, students must receive a score of 19 for the ACT and hold a 2.0 grade point average.

Priest said Riverside began offering classes this year to prepare for the ACT. Previous attempts to hold ACT preparation in the summer failed due to low enrollment. Williams also informed the board of a new state test, the ACT Aspire. The test will be given in grades three through 10 and is expected to aid in preparation for the ACT by familiarizing students with the test style.

When asked how many students achieve a score of 19 or higher on the ACT, Williams and Priest shared an estimated percentage of 60 percent. Williams explained that though most students don't do well the first time, once familiar with the test, student scores usually rise.

Dr. Mooneyhan added testing for the ACT will be offered on campus at no additional cost to the student rather than off campus as done in the past.

Priest mentioned the possibility of offering adult education through Riverside in the future after R.E.A.D. is established.

"We really feel like everybody in both Caraway and Lake City communities are going to benefit from this."

ASU Newport has completed paperwork to be sent to the Arkansas Department of Higher Education. Paperwork from Riverside is also complete. All that was left to be done was Board approval and signing paperwork for the program to begin in 2016.

A motion to accept the R.E.A.D incentive was approved by the Board with all in agreement.

An update was given on the progress of East Elementary School construction was given. Larson Tate, project manager, shared construction details. He is pleased with the progress and expects completion in spring 2016. Mark Cahoon, architect, said the weather has been nice and progress is good. Cahoon also asked Principal Brandi Wallace to check on details and let him know of anything she may have concerns with.

The Board approved the transfer of 8 year old Abigail Garcia from Brookland to Riverside.

Superintendent Tommy Knight recognized the Elementary Quiz Bowl team finishing second place at the Crowley's Ridge Educational Cooperative Quiz Bowl.

Knight also shared changes to the classified and certified salary schedules following a legislative audit. Additions were "per hour" for clarification of pay to employees, as well as $75 to attend required bus driver training. Changes to certified were $600 per semester pay for mentoring. The amendments were accepted all in favor.

In other business:

*Knight received a letter from the office of Kade Holiday, Craighead County clerk, stating there will be no roll back on taxes.

*A bid of $8,548.20 submitted by Arkansas Communications for a new stage media system was accepted by the Board.

*Knight shared the district is expecting an increase in funding for the quarter due to growth. Current funding is based on student enrollment at 802 and enrollment has risen to 820. The district receives $6,540 per year for each student.

*The Board approved the addition of high school graduation on May 13, 2016, to the school calendar.

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