By JEFFREY SMITH
Leader staff writer
Monday was a day to celebrate excellence at Arnold Drive Elementary School, as it is one of four schools in the state to be recognized this year as a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.
Only four schools in Arkansas won the coveted honor. They are all elementary schools, and only Arnold Drive is in central Arkansas.
Jacksonville community leaders, Little Rock Air Force Base commanders and Pulaski County Special School District administrators came out to the school to join students in a program for the special achievement.
Arnold Drive was one of 304 public and private schools — out of some 185,000 — designated Blue Ribbon schools.
The Blue Ribbon schools’ pro-gram honors schools that are either academically superior or that demonstrate dramatic gains in student achievement, according to Education Secretary Arnie Duncan.
Last year on the Benchmark exam, the fifth-graders at ArnoldDrive scored 100 percent proficient and advanced in math. Students scored 92 percent proficient and advanced in literacy.
The fourth-grade students scored 96 percent proficienct and advanced in both literacy and math. The third-grade students scored 96 percent proficient in math and 87 percent proficient in literacy.
Interim principal Gean Vines said Arnold Drive Elementary received a certificate Monday from the University of Arkansas for being the highest performing elementary school in central Arkansas based on Benchmark mathematics achievement.
The school has 240 students in pre-K through fifth grade. The school has 42 employees either support staff and certified staff who work with the students.
“This has been a wonderful celebration of excellence by the entire Arnold Drive community. As always the community has been so supportive — that contributes to the success we have here,” school principal Julie Davenport said.
“This school is really special,” Davenport said. “We knew if we made annual improvements, we’d be a Blue Ribbon school.”
Arnold Drive was honored in a ceremony in Washington last week, but no one from the school attended because of a lack of funds.
Davenport, who is recovering from back surgery, praised the hard-working students and staff, as well as parents who volunteer thousands of hours a year.
Col. Mike Minihan, commander of the 19th Airlift Wing, echoed Davenport’s sentiments.
“It’s always nice to be recognized, but we always knew excellence existed here,” Minihan said. “Thanks for the hard work and recognition you deserve.”
Minihan led fourth- and fifth-grade students in three “Wahoo” shouts—one to recognize parents, one for teachers and administrators and one for the students themselves.
Those results helped rank Arnold Drive best in the Pulaski County Special School District and one of the best in the state.
“You don’t celebrate average, you celebrate champions,” Mayor Gary Fletcher said.
He said the achievement Arnold Drive Elementary has made is a source of pride for the community. The students can look back and say they were champions.
At the end of the program, Arnold Drive had a parade around the school for Blue Ribbon students.
The other three schools were Calico Rock Elementary School, Kingston Elementary School and Salem Elementary School.
The website Schooldigger.com gives Arnold Drive a five-star rating, placing it 16th among the state’s 457 elementary schools, but the same website gives PCSSD just one star and ranks it 172nd out of 236 state school districts.
Arnold Drive has 240 students, and about half are on free or reduced lunch.
The average percentage of students on free or reduced lunch in the top 20 list is 32 percent.
Free or reduced lunches are markers for economic distress.
Garrick Feldman and John Hofheimer of The Leader staff contributed to this report.