Wednesday, June 08, 2011

TOP STORY > >High school here ranks with Delta

Leader executive editor

Three failing high schools down in the poverty-stricken Delta received multi-million-dollar federal grants last week. So did Jacksonville High School, the only one that’s not in the Delta.

Because it’s the biggest of the schools, Jacksonville received almost $2 million, slightly more than the others.

The four high schools — the others are Helena-West Helena, Marvell and Dollarway — are ranked in the bottom 5 percent in the state, which is why they qualified for the school-improvement grants.

This is a grant you don’t want to shout about, but if the schools improve, they’ll qualify for more funding over the next three years.

If Jacksonville does well next year, it could get an additional $1.7 million and $2 million more in 2013, or as much as $5.7 million over three years.

You can buy a lot of bells and whistles with that kind of money, although there’s no guarantee they’ll improve test scores.

The grants will pay for stuff you probably didn’t have when you were in high school: Students will get computers in labs and classrooms, and possibly iPads; campus-wide wireless Internet; Promethian interactive whiteboards; equipment for science labs; recording-studio equipment for band, choir and television-production classes, access to on-campus licensed social workers; credit recovery, and concurrent enrollment with Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock.

The Baptist campus is probably in better shape than Jack-sonville High School. Marvell High School looks better than JHS and even has a nice tennis court.

Jacksonville High is so rundown, U.S. District Judge Brian Miller, in his recent desegregation ruling, called it an impediment to getting a decent education. That’s one of the reasons the judge, a Helena native, wants to keep federal oversight of Pulaski County schools, even though he’s phasing out state desegregation aid to the schools.

You can get a pretty good view of Marvell High driving down Hwy. 49. But don’t go too fast: Marvell’s biggest industry is issuing speeding tickets to out-of-towners.


The levee and the river wall held during last month’s flooding down in Helena. The 11th Delta Family Gospel Festival went on as scheduled a couple of Saturdays ago on Cherry Street, thanks to the Delta Cultural Center and the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

The free festival is on the same stage as King Biscuit, in front of the levee not far from where Robert Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson and others once performed.

The gospel festival last year featured the Mighty Clouds of Joy and Otis Clay. This year, perhaps 250-300 people caught the Grammy Award-winning Mavis Staples, the nation’s greatest gospel-soul singer; the amazing Holmes Brothers, who are also Grammy winners, and the Lee Brothers and their blazing steel guitar.

Staples, who recently won her first Emmy for her “You’re Not Alone” CD, has been performing for 60 years, first with the Staples Singers — her dad Sears Roebuck (Pops) and sisters Cleotha and Yvonne and brother Pervis — and then mostly on her own.

Yvonne sang backup with Mavis in Helena, including such hits as “Wade in the Water,” “Freedom Highway,” “Creep Along Moses,” “Too Close/On My Way to Heaven,” “We Can Make It,” “I Belong to the Band, Hallelujah,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” and more.

This was one of the great concerts of the summer, but hardly anyone was there to enjoy it. Even fewer people showed up for Saturday’s Mother’s Best Blues Festival, which was also free, with such veteran soul-blues stars as Lonnie Shields and Bobby Rush.

It’s too bad these concerts aren’t well publicized and attendance is sparse. They’re mini-King Biscuit Festivals before the real thing in the fall.

After a hot, dry summer, the levees should hold till then.