Over half of Fort Smith’s 26 schools show improvement, district receives ‘C’ grade

by Aric Mitchell (amitchell@talkbusiness.net) 419 views 

The Arkansas Department of Education released statewide school report cards for the 2016-2017 school year, and the Fort Smith School District finished with a C rating on the traditional A-F scale. Two schools — Dora Kimmons Junior High and Northside High Schools — received D’s, but over half the district’s 26 schools showed improvements.

School Board member Bill Hanesworth veered from Monday’s (April 16) work session agenda to ask administration what they would do to improve the situations at Northside and Kimmons.

Fort Smith Schools Superintendent Dr. Doug Brubaker noted some of the district’s wins for the last school year.

“We were excited that we had over half that improved. We had one school, Orr (Elementary), go from from a D to a B. Cavanaugh, from a C to an A. We had really great results overall, but of course we’re in the process of zeroing in on areas where we need growth,” Brubaker said, adding that what he found encouraging is “that all of these scores pre-date strategic planning and a lot of the work that we’ve been doing since.” That said, “Schools are working on specific plans, and those will be brought to the Board.”

Dr. Barry Owen, assistant superintendent for instruction in the Fort Smith School District, explained that individual plans for improvement are required to be submitted to administration by May 1.

“They’ll work on those over the summer, and the state requires they be approved by the School Board by Aug. 1.”

Owen said schools, specifically low-scoring ones like Kimmons and Northside “are already intently looking at data.” They’re “drilling down” by individual students and “looking at ways to motivate those students to higher levels of success.” Through “professional learning communities,” Owen said, teachers learn from one another’s strengths. “If one teacher teaches a particular unit with a higher level of proficiency with her students, then they’re asking (and sharing), ‘How’d you do this?’”

Hanesworth emphasized the importance of addressing school issues ahead of the May 22 millage vote.

“We all should feel good about the improvements, but unfortunately, people migrate towards, ‘Well, you had these two issues.’ I hope we’ll be very specific about what the shortfall was, and the resources and the things that we’re going to do to mitigate some of those things. I think that’s really important as we go forward, especially with the millage coming up.”

Hanesworth continued: “I’m not trying to call anyone out by any means. I just think that we need to be very proactive about this and say, ‘Here’s what we know, this is what we’re going to do, and this is the expectation when we’re done.'”

The School Report Card system uses a composite of indicators when scoring. Among key indicators are class performance, test scores, dropout rates, student achievement, and the degree of growth students experience throughout their school year.

“They’re starting to look at other things” as well, Brubaker said, including “industry certifications, the amount of college credit that’s earned, how are kids doing with AP classes — those kinds of things.”

For last year, Cavanaugh, Cook, Euper Lane, and Woods Elementary Schools, and Chaffin Junior High were the schools to receive A grades. Six schools — Barling, Beard, Bonneville, Fairview, and Orr elementaries and Southside High School — received B grades. Darby and Ramsey Junior High Schools, as well as Trusty, Tilles, Sutton, Sunnymede, Spradling, Howard, Morrison, Carnall, Ballman, and Albert Pike elementaries received C grades. Kimmons and Northside were the only D’s, and the district did not have any F ratings. Belle Point Alternative Center was not graded.

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