Monday, June 06, 2011

TOP STORY >> Technology grant to JHS worth $2M

Leader staff writer

IN SHORT:  Over the next three years, the troubled high school could get as much as $5.7 million if it does well.

Jacksonville High School is the recipient of a $2 million federal school-improvement grant that will be used to promote academic achievement through more technology and professional development for teachers.
The high school is ranked in the bottom 5 percent in the state, along with Dollarway, Helena-West Helena and Marvell, which 

also received similar grants.Jacksonville’s grant could be renewed for two additional years if the school uses the money appropriately and has positive results. The school would receive the same amount for the second year and $1.7 million for the third year, said assistant principal Chris Jones.
Jones, with help from Kathy Golf, a grant writer provided by Pulaski County Special School District, composed a plan for improvements last summer. The school didn’t meet the deadline to apply for the grant last year.

Superintendent Charles Hopson said, “We want this school to be one of the premier schools in the state.”

The grant will provide students with electronic devices, campus-wide wireless Internet, Promethian interactive whiteboards, new computers in labs and classrooms, 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 school will also offer ninth-graders an orientation in July.

Jones said the school has not decided whether the students will be given laptops or iPads to use at school and at home. Right now, five interactive whiteboards are being used in classrooms and two of those are demonstration units.

“When students are hands-on and involved, they tend to learn more,” she said.

Government and world history teacher Lori Lachowsky agreed. “In today’s 21st Century, classroom technology is a must for students to learn. We must communicate to them in a medium they use to communicate, which is technology.”

The school’s library still has a vintage paper card-catalogue system and its newest encyclopedia set is six years old. The school also has a basement-like computer lab open to students. It houses 16 computers. English teacher Elizabeth Lanius said she would love to see the library updated to a competitive media center.

She said she’s had seniors in class who didn’t have an e-mail address or know how to sign up for a free e-mail account and therefore couldn’t utilize available online learning tools, since most of those require an e-mail address to activate an account.

“They didn’t know how to navigate the Internet. If they don’t keep up now, I’m worried they’ll be left behind in today’s job market,” Lanius said. “I can provide online learning tools all day long, but if my kids don’t have e-mail addresses, how will they utilize those inside and outside the classroom? Hopefully, technology will remedy that.”

The college courses, which will be in English and math, will be available to seniors who are on track to graduate. Credit recovery will allow students who are behind to catch up so that they can graduate on time.

The grant will also fund a week of professional development for teachers the week before they return to the classroom in the fall, advanced-placement training for all teachers, compensation for teachers to come in over the summer and assess where students need improvement based on their test scores, and the hiring of an on-campus liaison for parents.

The school currently offers some AP history, English and math classes. Training everyone to teach AP classes will improve the staff’s skills and allow the school to have more sections of AP courses. If a student scores a three or higher, the highest grade being a five, on an AP exam, he or she can earn credit for college before graduating from high school. Jones emphasized that the grant will change the culture at the high school, and Lachowsky agrees.

To be eligible for grants, schools must also take one of two actions—replace most of the teachers or replace the principal.

Principal Bobby Pruitt, who was promoted to that position this school year and is the fourth principal in less than two years, announced his retirement at the graduation ceremony on May 27. Pruitt has more than 30 years of service as a coach, teacher and administrator for the district.

Hopson said the requirement for the grant did not have anything to do with Pruitt’s decision to retire. He said the district would be seeking out a candidate with a track record of having high standards or the promise of bringing high standards to the school’s leadership.

He said some of the teachers could be transferred, voluntarily or involuntarily, if they don’t mesh well with the changes that are planned. He emphasized the district’s commitment to make education in Jacksonville a priority and to move the high school away from being a “school of failure” to a “school of choice.”