Friday, January 11, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Auditorium finally rebuilt

North Pulaski High School has a new auditorium after a tornado destroyed the old one nearly two years ago. This is welcome news for Jacksonville, which is seldom the beneficiary of facility improvements from the Little Rock-based Pulaski County Special School District.

As Leader staff writer Sarah Campbell reported Wednesday, the new $3 million Sandy Reed Auditorium is state of the art and modern looking. With walls that have been reinforced with concrete, it should withstand powerful storms.

PCSSD officials, including the district’s chief operating officer Derek Scott, successfully negotiated with the insurance companies to pay all of the reconstruction costs. The district only had to pay a $1,000 deductible. That’s a badly needed bargain for a struggling district that has been under state control for about two years and has so far failed to get its finances in order.

The new auditorium is a testament to the potential of Jacksonville schools and an independent school district. It offers hope to a community that believes good schools are possible not only in neighboring cities to the north.

The new auditorium has natural lighting, stylish seating and soundboards, which will improve the acoustics during performances. Dressing rooms are well designed, and there’s ample storage space for props and wardrobes.

If improvements like this had been made 15 years ago, perhaps PCSSD would be more respected in Jacksonville. Meanwhile, the movement for the city to break away from PCSSD and form an independent, north Pulaski County school district is gaining momentum and could soon become a reality.

But PCSSD seems to only make improvements in Jacksonville when there is a natural disaster or when its schools fall so far behind that the federal government provides emergency funding as was the case with Jacksonville High School.

The high school qualified for a special college preparation program because it ranked in the bottom 5 percent of the state’s schools. The program is funded by a portion of a $5.7 million federal grant. As Sarah Campbell also reported this week, bright students at JHS are eligible to take courses for college credit from Arkansas State University-Beebe.

Nine students recently completed their first semester of classes at the Joint Education Center at Little Rock Air Force Base. They talked about how getting a taste of college classes has given them confidence that they can succeed at the university level. All of the students plan to attend college. One may attend Duke University and another would like to go to the University of California at Berkeley, while others plan to attend prestigious schools across the state.

“It’s been a good program. We’re so proud she’s achieved it and done so well. It really did mature her,” a mother boasted of her daughter’s success in the program.

We hope to say the same of PCSSD after it is released from state control.