School officials ready for second semester
School is back in session in Carroll County. The first chapter of this school year is written, but local superintendents aren't closing the book just yet, noting how the first semester can often indicate how the next semester and even the next school year will go.
Superintendent Owen Powell said the Berryville School District had a positive first semester this school year.
One of the biggest accomplishments, he said, has been lining up curriculum between the four school buildings.
"We've worked really hard to map our curriculum with the district's four facilitators," Powell said. "This is the first year we have had facilitators in all four buildings. I think those positions are really helping our teachers and principals."
As always, he said, the district's main two goals are the safety and instruction of its students.
"I feel like we've done really well on both fronts this first semester," Powell said. "Safety is always a big concern in today's world, and we have kept our kids safe and allowed them to focus on learning."
He said one of the biggest projects for the second semester will be the planning for the construction of a new high school.
The Berryville School Board has decided to look into a proposal involving the construction of a new 98,000-square-foot high school for grades 10 through 12 on the east campus, which contains the current middle and high schools; new 22,000-square-foot cafeterias for both the middle and high schools; and new 22,000-square-foot media centers for both the middle and high schools. The proposal also includes renovating and converting the 1942 high school into an administration building.
Additionally, the proposal involves the demolition of the middle school's west wing, the media center, the cafeteria, the back of the 1942 high school and the small buildings around the campus.
"We'll be taking a detailed look at our facilities this semester and continue working on those plans," Powell said. "It's a long ways from happening, but we're looking forward to getting that project going."
The district is also looking ahead to upcoming standardized tests this spring, he said.
"We definitely have more testing in the springtime, so we will be preparing our students for that," Powell said.
Overall, he said, the Berryville School District has a lot of good things going on at its campuses.
"We've had a really positive first semester, and we hope to keep that going into the second half of the school year."
Superintendent Matt Summers said the first half of the 2016-17 school year brought some new challenges to the Green Forest School District. Most, he said, revolved around the recent growth the city and school district are experiencing.
He said the city is growing with the new Harps Food location and the Tyson Foods expansion, which could potentially bring more families to the area and thus increase enrollment at the schools.
The district has already begun to experience a spike in enrollment, Summers said.
"My first year here was the largest enrollment for the district in a while with 1,255 students," he said. "We've been on a steady decline since then, but this year we're up to 1,300 students."
Although the growing enrollment has led to some challenging planning, Summers said it is a good problem to have.
"It's an odd feeling," he said. "We've had a lot of growth this year. Growth problems are good problems, but they're still problems you have to deal with."
Summers continued, "We're doing our very best. We're planning for the future, and we're doing some things differently. It's not necessarily bad. It's just a different shift in our focus."
One of the bigger projects impacted by the growth is the proposed Grim Gym renovation, he said. Construction on the project had originally been slated to begin the Monday after graduation this May, he said, but the board voted to table the project until the school district has a better idea of how the Tyson Foods expansion will affect enrollment.
"If the growth doesn't come with the Tyson expansion, then putting off the renovation was still a wise decision," Summers said. "We just don't know what's in store for the district yet. It would not be very prudent of us to jump right in the middle of an $800,000 remodel without knowing the numbers yet."
While the growth has not affected any other major projects yet, he said it has made space at the district tight.
"During my five years here, we had some positions that we didn't fill as people left the district or retired," Summers said. "Now that we're back at full capacity, especially in the elementary, we can no longer do that."
He continued, "Overall, this growth makes the cafeteria a little tighter and the buses fuller. It's an overall squeeze on the district."
Summers said one of the highlights of the first semester was the high number of exemplary scores on the ACT.
"For a school of our size, that's just a mathematical anomaly to have so many students scoring at such a high level," he said. "It's a tribute to our students, parents, teachers and our ACT prep program."
Summers said he has particularly been impressed with the amount of underclassmen scoring top marks on the ACT because they are being given an exam on classes they have not even taken yet.
"It goes back to a total program," he said. "It's a strong reflection on our school and our community. I'm interested to see how many other students score that high in the spring semester."
Summers continued, "I'm excited and optimistic for what the future holds for our students. When you have scores like that, it's a huge financial incentive to students and their parents to pursue further education."
Although the high ACT scores are exciting, he said the district tries not to put too high an emphasis on standardized tests.
"It's just something we do," Summers said. "We don't put teachers or students under the gun for that. It's all about doing the best you can. If you're relaxed and do the best you can, you'll be successful."
Preparing for the standardized tests will only become a major concern, he said, if bad weather causes the district to miss school.
"That's the only time we really get in a bind," Summers said. "We have everything planned throughout the spring, so, unless we miss some time, we're pretty much on schedule."
He said he is looking forward to the second semester for both the warmer weather and getting more answers to the district's growth questions.
"We're in a retroactive mindset, which is that we're going to make decisions when they show up," Summers said. "That's not how we like to do it. We like to be proactive and stay ahead of the game. We're still finding out answers to those growth questions. We probably won't have answers until the first semester of next year."
Overall, he said, it's an exciting time for the Green Forest School District.
"It's a time of growth for the city and the school district," Summers said. "It's exciting but nerve-wracking at the same time."