Fort Smith Public Schools receive wellness center grant, soon to rename Albert Pike elementary

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 734 views 

With the help of a $500,000 grant, Fort Smith Public Schools will open a school-based wellness center at Darby Junior High. Superintendent Dr. Doug Brubaker announced the center during his annual public report at the FSPS school board’s regular meeting Monday (Sept. 28).

“This was an area that was a focus in Vision 2023 that has been a growing need in our community. We did recently receive a $500,000 school-based health center grant for a school-based health center opening at Darby by the end of this year,” Brubaker said.

The program grant is from a state coalition of several groups for physical and mental health providers, and educators, according to Zena Featherston Marshall, executive director of communications and community partnerships for the school district. The center received $150,000 awarded by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for the first year, which is funded from proceeds of the tobacco lawsuit “from years ago,” Brubaker said.

“What a great way to put those monies back into the community,” Brubaker said.

The wellness center program will be a partnership with Mercy Fort Smith and the The Guidance Center, he added. The center will serve students, staff and families at Darby Junior High and Tilles Elementary School, Brubaker said, noting the district hopes to open another site in the next few years.

Another key point noted in the report was that the district served 286,404 meals from March to May after the COVID-19 pandemic required schools across Arkansas to cease in-building learning.

The district had 2,039 employees and 14,788 students in the 2019-2020. There were 1,001 in 2020 who earned $9.54 million in scholarships, Brubaker said.

“It’s really good to have all of this coming together for our schools,” said FSPS School Board President Bill Hanesworth. “It’s really exciting for us.”

In other business, Brubaker told the board a survey for the renaming of Albert Pike Elementary School will be released Tuesday (Sept. 29). On Aug. 24, the school board unanimously approved a resolution to adopt a new name for Albert Pike Elementary School for the 2021-2022 school year. The controversial effort to rename the school building began earlier this year when the district’s Vision 2023 Equity and Minority Recruitment team recommended a renaming.

Albert Pike settled in Fort Smith in 1833 and taught school while he studied law. He opened a law practice in 1834. He later served as a general in the Confederate Army. The resolution brought up that Pike joined a petition in 1858 to “expel all free blacks from the State of Arkansas” and wrote in 1868, “We mean that the white race, and that race alone, shall govern this country. It is the only one that is fit to govern, and it is the only one that shall.”

The resolution called for the process to rename the school to involve Albert Pike Elementary School stakeholders. To help with that, a link to the survey will be posted on the district web site and social media, and the link will be sent to the families of all Albert Pike Elementary School students and to members of school’s staff. Community members who want a paper form can call the district office to request one.

The survey asks for the preferred new name for the school as long as why that name is preferred and any additional information needed. The survey will close Oct. 8, and the results will be presented to during a called board meeting Oct. 12, Brubaker said.

“I have heard from a lot of people who think Park Elementary would be a good name,” said FSPS Board member Susan McFerran. “I like that this survey will cover input from the entire community and everyone has a voice. I would like the board to make a decision on the name at the next board meeting. I think that is important.”

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