Sunday, October 3, 2010

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part LXX): Local school wins National Blue Ribbon Award

This is not law and order news, but the big headline in the Sept. 16 and Sept. 23, 2010 editions of the Newton County Times is that the Kingston, Arkansas School, which consolidated with the Jasper School six years ago, has been named a 2010 National Blue Ribbon School. The list of about 300 winning schools was announced by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Sept. 9, and these schools will be honored in Washington, D.C., in mid-November.

Blue Ribbon status honors public and private schools whose students achieve at high levels or have made significant progress and helped close gaps in achievement, especially among disadvantaged and minority students. One of the categories of schools honored is those whose student populations are at least 40% from disadvantaged backgrounds and who "improve student performance to high levels as measured by the school's performance on state assessments or nationally-normed tests."

I assume that Kingston is in this category--rather than the category that recognizes schools where students are consistently high achieving. Kingston is a small school, with a K-12 enrollment I would estimate at under 300, though neither of the news reports provides this detail. The poverty rate in Kingston is not readily available because it is not even a Census Designated Place. In surrounding Madison County, population 14,243, the poverty rate is 18.6%, and the poverty rate for families is 14.7%. The average income in the county is less than $15,000. One of the Newton County Times stories states that 69% of the Kingston School's students qualify for free or reduced price lunches, which is another indicator of socioeconomic disadvantage.

The report does not indicate what the school has done to achieve high test scores for three consecutive years, but it does tell the story of Kingston's decision to consolidate with Jasper and another school, Oark, rather than with the larger school in nearby Huntsville.  Like Kingston, Huntsville is in Madison County. The school's principal, Marsha Shaver, reports that "Our teachers and community wasn't looking for better pay. We definitely would have gotten better pay with Hunstville." (I hope she was misquoted and did not actually use improper grammar).  Shaver states that the questions raised then were, "Could we stay open? Could we keep our community? Could we keep our kids here?" She goes on to state that the Kingston School Board apparently "didn't feel secure in going with Huntsville and they felt more secure about going with Jasper."

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