Speaking at an academic awards ceremony earlier this week, Principal Barry Hardin told a gymnasium full of teenagers that their hard work had taken the school firmly off the state's improvement list -- where it had been marooned for some seven years until now.
Last year's junior class managed to nudge the school's score on the annual literacy exam high enough to make the mark, but only barely -- after school administrators appealed a number of scores to the Arkansas Department of Education.
Hardin said this year's class had built on last year's success. A whopping 81 percent of students who tested this year scored proficient or advanced -- dwarfing past year's scores for the district and outpacing other schools in the state.
That marks a 27 percent increase from last year, Hardin said, and is higher than any other year since the inception of the tests.
Superintendent Matt Summers said the state average for the 11th grade literacy exam was only 70 percent this year and that the average for districts in the region was only slightly higher -- at 75 percent.
Summers said moving off the list gave school officials more discretion in how to spend district money. For schools that remain on the list for multiple years, the state can require officials to pay for remedial and enrichment programs, punish them by withholding funding, or -- in extreme cases -- even take over the administration of the school.
Students' achievements over the last two years help to prevent those scenarios. Beyond this, Summers said, the success is a morale booster for students and staff.
"There's a pride factor there, as well," the superintendent said. "We want our schools to be successful."
"It's been a work in progress for some time," he added. "(but) It's very pleasant reading when you get something like that and see that much of a marked improvement ... We're just tickled to death."