Friday, September 6, 2013

Back to school in rural Arkansas

Late August and early September issues of the Newton County Times include several stories about things going on at the four county schools, which are spread among three districts.

At Jasper school, a new school-based community health clinic held an open house in late August, though it will not be operational until sometime in mid-to-late September.  A dentist and physician's assistant (PA) will work at the clinic, which is situated in what was previously the school's auditorium lobby.  That area has been converted into examination rooms, a laboratory, and a 3-chair dental suite.  That probably doubles or even triples the number of dental chairs currently in the county.  The PA is associated with the North Arkansas Regional Medical Center in Harrison, and he will work under supervision of Harrison physician, John Leslie, MD.  The dentist, Robert Hubbard, DDS, said he had been looking to establish a satellite clinic from his Harrison clinic.  Eventually, he expects to have dental hygienists working in Jasper, too.

The clinic was financed with a $500,000 state grant.  Those funds were set aside by Act 180 of 2009, and awarded by the Arkansas Dept. of Education's Office of Coordinated School Health, in collaboration with the Arkansas Dept. of Health and Arkansas Medicaid in the Schools.  The Act features three primary goals:

  • Provide clinical services through a qualified health provider such as a hospital, community health center, or medical practice.
  • Establish a mental health program based on the Arkansas Dept of Education School Based Mental Health Best Practices Manual.
  • Provide students, families, and community with education outreach based on needs through implementation of the eight-component model of Coordinated School Health to improve academic achievement, school health programs, and community support. 
Nothing in the Newton County Times story indicates anything about the provision of mental health services at the Jasper clinic. 

Another story reports on back-to-school events at Jasper School.  Here's the lede:  
The superintendent, a sheriff's deputy reviewing active shooter training and a keynote address by the Dept of Education Assistant Commissioner Karen Walters on the topic of teacher evaluations welcomed Jasper School District teachers to their in-service day prior to the start of school.  
Among other things, the superintendent announced that he had convinced two teachers, previously retired, to come back to teaching.  Each of the teaches has about 40 years of teaching experience, and Superintendent Kerry Saylors admitted he "begged them" to return. 

He announced that last year's budget was $22.67 million, with $7.3 million of that in salaries.  Last year the district gave a $200 bonus to each employee, which cost $40,631.  Saylors said he hoped to give bonuses again this year, but that the priority would be for teachers to get any bonuses awarded.  

Saylors boasted that the Jasper district enjoys some of the lowest teacher-to-student ratios in the state, ranging from one teacher for each 7.76 students at Kingston Elementary to 1 teacher per 15.14 students at Jasper High School.  

Saylors thanked the lunchroom workers for implementing programs providing "convenient and appealing meals and snacks to students" so that "our children are getting to eat when they are hungry."  Two years ago, the district served 67,177 breakfasts.  Since implementing the Grab & Go and Breakfast-in-the-Classroom programs, 101,199 breakfasts, "all reimbursable," were served.  The story does not indicate who is doing the reimbursing, but it is almost certainly the USDA.  Ditto for the 10,303 morning and noontime meals served to students on all three of the district's campuses over the summer.  Saylors did note, regarding the food served, that "[t]he Feds noticed the difference" and are helping Jasper get new kitchen equipment with a grant that will pay half the cost.  

The Kingston Elementary and High School buildings got new roofs last year.  This year, Kingston will get a new cafeteria and fine arts building, which will feature a safe room.  A new high school building, featuring covered walkways, is under construction at Oark. The Jasper campus has a new electrical distribution system.  

The superintendent congratulated Oark on improvements in its test scores.  The school must improve its scores for an additional year before it is "off the naughty list."  He commended Kingston for its traditionally good scores and "marveled" that Jasper High School posted some of the highest scores in its history.

Superintendent Saylors also updated teachers and staff about legislative efforts to retain isolated funding.  I wrote about that issue here (last paragraph of post).  

In other school news from around the county:
  • Deer-Mt. Judea School Board Member Joe Ricketts resigned. 
  • The Oark School got a $7K "Stream Team" grant to improve a portion of a steam that runs through campus.  The grant, from the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, acknowledges the work the 
  • At a Western Grove School opening assembly, students mourned a high school teacher who died suddenly in July, aged 45.  
  • The women of the Jasper United Methodist Church welcomed Jasper School teachers back to school with a luncheon and an assortment of classroom supplies. 

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