Friday, August 23, 2013

TOP STORY >> First week of school called a big success

Leader staff writer

Area school districts report that the first week of school, which started Monday, was a success.

Cabot’s enrollment re-mained steady. The most recent count was 10,144. The comparable 2012-13 total was 10,139.

The Lonoke School District saw a decline. On Wednesday, the count was 1,793. At the end of last school year, it was 1,815.

Deborah Roush, spokeswoman for the Pulaski County Special School District, said its enrollment figures would be released next week.


PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess spoke at a recent new teachers’ luncheon hosted by the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.

He said, “We’re excited about the new year. We have an awful lot going on. We’re seeing a lot of enthusiasm about the new school year, a lot more than before. We’re doing a lot of things to try to remind people we care about their children.”

Roush said, “We had a great start to the school year.”

She added that although definite figures aren’t available yet, it appears that enrollment at Jacksonville Middle School may have increased.

Lourdes Goodnight was recently hired as the new principal there. Roush said the increase “would make us really happy because she’s working so hard.”

Roush added, “Our biggest issue was folks using their cell phones in the school zones.”

She explained that using a cell phone in a school zone has been against the law since 2011.

With children excited about seeing their friends again, they can run across the road without thinking to greet each other and exchange hugs, Roush explained.

She wants to remind people that “it just takes one second of taking your eyes off the road” to hit a kid.

“That’s the last thing we want to happen,” Roush said.

She also highlighted a community partnership that helps students at Clinton Elementary School in Sherwood and Jack-sonville Middle School.

Roush noted that Arkansas Office Products gave 100 backpacks — 50 to each school — packed with supplies for economically-disadvantaged kids whose families might not be able to afford a new backpack or any backpack at all.

There were facility improvements at a lot of schools, Roush continued. Most of the buses ran on time, and school started on time, she said.

Roush visited some classrooms on Monday and was pleased to see students reviewing the rules and then settling into lessons.

“I saw kids engaged in learning already. By the afternoon, it was really business as usual,” she said.

There was some traffic congestion but that will probably clear up after the first week, Roush added.

She explained that many parents drive their children to school the first couple of days or the first week. Then the children take the bus the rest of the year.

“It has been, for most departments, the smoothest start they’ve seen in years,” Roush said.

Bill Barnes, the new principal at Jacksonville High School said this week was better than he anticipated. “Teachers are teaching...I’m going to have a happy weekend,” he added.

Homer Adkins Preschool Principal Lisa Peeples agreed. She said, “We had a fabulous back to school. Everything was so smooth. My parents have been so cooperative. We’ve got great students this year. My staff is wonderful. Everything is falling into place.”

Peeples added that she wanted to thank the Jacksonville Police Department’s resource officers for helping with dismissals.

Clinton Elementary Prin-cipal Jackye Parker said, “The first week of school was very smooth, orderly and there seems to be a lot of excitement from teachers and students. We’re off to a good start for a school year that has all the makings of being most productive.”

Jose Brazil, the principal at Sherwood Elementary, said there have been no problems.

Northwood Middle Principal Kirk Freeman, who has worked there the past four years, said, “This is my best start ever.”

Warren Dupree Elementary Principal Janice Walker said, “We’ve gotten off to a great start. Some of the minor challenges we were faced with last year I haven’t seen this year.”

Bayou Meto Elementary Principal Gary Beck said, “Everything seems to be running smoothly, better than in the past.”


Tonya Spillane, coordinator of middle level and freshmen programs, said during the Cabot School Board meeting on Tuesday, “The kids knew there was an expectation. They are going to work hard to play hard. We have no choice but to continue this energy the rest of the school year.”

She was talking about how Junior High North and Junior High South held pep rallies on the first day. Two principals even dressed in costume for the occasion.

“We could not have done this without a superintendent who lets us have fun and challenges us to find new ways to motivate” students and teachers, Spillane added.

Dawn Peeples, the new principal at Middle School North, said, “We had a great week. It was busy. Everyone just worked together. I was told they would take care of me when I got here. They have been wonderful.”

Deputy Superintendent Harold Jeffcoat announced that everything was going well with the new $26 million freshmen academy project.

Bids for the final phase of that construction will be let on Sept. 5, he said.

Superintendent Tony Thur-man said a professional film crew from Minnesota would be in Cabot to shoot a national video about heat as it affects athletes and how to prevent and treat heat-related problems.

The board was told that new teachers were asked during orientation, “Whose dream will you make come true this year?”

Paraprofessionals, instead of being pulled out of classes for training, were able to do so before school started.

Board member Ricky Hill said he received a couple of e-mails about Common Core, a way of teaching that is more student centered and focused on going deeper into reading, language and math. “There are a lot of misconceptions out there,” Hill said.

He was told that the district has produced a video that aired on the school’s Channel 3 before school started, and that it will be shown again soon.


Superintendent Suzanne Bailey said more definite student count would be available after Labor Day. She noted that administrators are working to find out the reasons behind decreasing numbers.

The pre-kindergarten program has 53 students.

Lonoke has a new alternative-learning environment program called CORE — Committed to Other Routes of Education. The district has partnered with the Carlisle and Hazen school districts to provide the program.

Seven students are enrolled in CORE so far.

Bailey thanked parents, guardians and community members for being cautious as they drive through school zones. She asked them to watch for students walking and crossing from one location to another.

Bailey also thanked them for not talking on cell phones, or sending text messages in school zones when children are present. Using a cell phone in school zones is against the law.

She was glad that drivers are not passing cars while waiting in the lines or passing school buses when the flashing red lights are on and the bus’s stop sign is out.

Bailey continued, “Please come eat in our new high school cafeteria, where we have a variety of food offerings and a colorful and inviting environment to enjoy a meal. Lunches are $2 for students and $3 for adults.”

She also said, “We are also working on our football field parking areas, ticket booths and replacing the James B. Abraham sign back on the field in preparation for the upcoming football games. We hope to see everyone at our extra-curricular events throughout the school year to provide support to our students and the staff. The first home football game is Thursday, Sept. 12 for junior high and Friday, Sept. 13 for high school.”

The Homework Hotline, a free tutoring program, will begin on Tuesday, Sept. 3, at the Carver Campus.

The program will start after school and be open until 5:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Students may ride the school bus to the Carver Campus, but parents must pick them up from the campus.

Bailey said, “We are looking forward to a wonderful school year that has already had a super beginning. We will be working hard to make the necessary improvements at each grade level and in each department so that our students can achieve maximum success. We will also be working hard to continue the successes we have achieved at Lonoke schools with the goals that have been set in place.” She added that the district’s website is being improved every day.

Beebe Superintendent Belinda Shook did not respond by press time.

TOP STORY >> Veterans site pitched to state

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville officials in a presentation Wednesday stressed that their proposed site for a new state veterans’ home is versatile and would have the full support of a community dedicated to those who serve.

Former Rep. Mike Wilson, said, “No one in this state, no one in this country, supports the armed forces like we do. We’re going to keep doing it. We believe that the best site is here.”

The city is offering, free of charge, 57 acres of land with utilities off General Samuels Road near Swift Road for the $25 million facility.

Officials say it is mostly flat, undeveloped timberland that could easily accommodate a cottage-style, branch/wing-style or pod-style veterans home with a pond.

But the Jacksonville site is no longer up against just three other locations — in Benton, Fort Smith and Russellville — that were chosen from 61 proposals submitted to a 22-member task force led by state Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock).

Another group, the 15- member Arkansas Veterans Commission, has looked at a site in Searcy even though that city turned in its proposal to the task force weeks after a June deadline.

About Jacksonville’s chances of being selected, the senator said, “All (the sites) have really good things. It’s going to be a very difficult decision...There is no perfect site.”

The task force hopes to submit its recommendation by the end of the month.

Cissy Rucker, director of the state Department of Veterans Affairs, will have the final say about which site is selected for the project that could house about 100 veterans and create at least that many jobs.

Rucker said on Wednesday that she is willing to look at other proposals submitted after the June deadline. She added that proposals from two or three other cities that were considered also came in late.

Rucker explained, “We need to give this as wide of a look as we can.”

Commission chairman Tom Thomas, a Searcy native, said his group and the task force are not working against each other.

In fact, Thomas is a member of English’s task force and helped it select Jacksonville as one of the top four sites.

He explained that the commission is advising Rucker under Act 165, which the senator helped write.

“The ultimate goal of both (groups) is to pick a facility that is the best facility and site that we can get. I sometimes get emotional when I think of things we should do for our veterans that we’re not,” Thomas said.

The commission, unlike the task force, wasn’t formed to recommend sites for the veterans’ home. It was created after World War II, Thomas noted.

Officials don’t know yet whether they will receive the $18.1 million federal matching grant the state applied for to construct the facility, he continued. Arkansas lawmakers have agreed to use $7.5 million in surplus funds to match the grant. Thomas said a letter about the grant might not arrive until December or January.

He explained that a lot of bureaucracy, including federal approvals, would slow the project down.

But, Thomas noted, he was impressed with both Searcy’s and Jacksonville’s presentations.

“I think Jacksonville has got a great site. There is no doubt about it that Jacksonville is veteran-oriented,” he said.

State Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) stood up at the end of the presentation to agree. The senator noted that he has traveled to many places all over the state.

“There is not another community in the state that its heartbeat is the military,” Williams said.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said, “Our arms are long enough to reach out for what we would consider the gem of our community.”

Third-generation Jackson-ville realtor Daniel Gray said, “The biggest asset is the proximity to Little Rock Air Force Base and the history of Jacksonville.”

That history includes the community raising millions of dollars so it could donate the land to the Air Force for the base in 1954 and the city providing $5 million to build the $14 million LRAFB Education Center at the intersection of Hwy. 67/167 and Vandenburg Boulevard.

Gray added that Jacksonville has three high schools, the military history museum, many churches and numerous veterans’ organizations. The community also helped establish the Flightline Charter Academy on the base.

Cindy Stafford, the chief executive officer for North Metro Medical Center, pointed out that the level-four trauma hospital is just over a mile from the proposed site. Level four means North Metro has demonstrated the ability to provide advanced trauma life support.

The center also offers a long-term acute care facility, Stafford said.

Larry Wilson, president of his family’s Jacksonville-based First Arkansas Bank and Trust, said the veterans home “is a big deal and many veterans will benefit from it for years.”

He noted that 32,000 veterans — the largest population in Arkansas — live in Pulaski County.

Larry Wilson said, “If you’re going to build a veterans’ home, why not have it where the veterans are?...When you focus on what is best for veterans, this site and its amenities makes your recommendation for this site easier. All we ask is do what’s best for the veterans.”

Gray wanted to clarify that the proposed site was never part of the Vertac Chemical Corp. property on the nearby Marshall Road.

The proposal sent to the task force states that there was once a chemical plant on the site.

In 1979, the Environ-mental Protection Agency found that the land owned by Vertac was contaminated with dioxin, a toxic waste.

The property was cleaned up in 1998 with $150 million from the federal Superfund program.

English said the veterans’ home would not be used as a drug or alcohol rehabilitation center like Fort Roots in North Little Rock.

Jacksonville’s proposal meets the task force’s criteria that the site be at least 20 acres of level land zoned for residential or light commercial use, have utilities, easy public access and be near motels, hospitals, restaurants, shopping and public transportation. The task force also prefers a site that is undeveloped and free.

The Jacksonville parcel is zoned for light commercial use. The Central Arkansas Transit System bus stop is about a block away and could be moved closer, officials said at the presentation.

TOP STORY >> FBI offering $20K reward

Leader staff writer

The FBI is offering a reward up to $20,000 for information leading to an arrest for the intentional downing of high-voltage wires and damage to an electrical transmission tower in the Holland Bottoms area of Cabot on Wednesday.

According to Sally Graham with Entergy Arkansas, an electrical line from one of the towers fell at 4:30 a.m. across Hwy. 321 and the railroad tracks near the overpass. Entergy notified the police department, railroad and the school district about the problem.

No power outages were reported, and the area was secured. The highway and the railroad were closed, but both were reopened by Wednesday night. Electricity to the lines was rerouted around the damaged section.

Graham said an inspection of the line by Entergy crews indicated someone with a hacksaw climbed up the 100-foot tower. They cut a steel shackle that helps hold one set of power lines to the tower arm, causing the wires to drop.

The electrical line, which runs from Holland Bottoms to Keo, carries 500 kilovolts. Safety measures are in place that immediately de-energize the electrical line when a cable falls.

“Bringing down a high-voltage power line wouldn’t be difficult for someone who knows how,” said a utility contractor in New York who works on electrical lines.

“With the right gloves and a special suit, the energy goes around you. But without the right equipment and the knowledge, you’re dead, ‘fried internally’,” he said.

According to an FBI re-lease, an investigation indicated someone also attached a cable to the frame of the electrical tower and placed the cable across the railroad tracks in an attempt to use a moving train to bring down the tower.

A train snagged the cable and caused the upper portion of the electrical tower to kink. The snag didn’t cause any injuries.

The steel bolts from three of the tower’s support legs were also removed.

It is unknown if more than one person was involved in the incident.

The FBI believes someone may have seen a person or a vehicle in the area early Wednesday morning, or heard the loud noise of someone removing the bolts from the base of the tower.

FBI investigators think the person responsible is familiar with the Holland Bottoms area. They may also have above-average knowledge or skill working with electricity.

Entergy officials do not suspect that the incident was related to copper theft because no copper was involved. High-voltage wires are aluminum.

Entergy crews will have to replace the metal structure, but the company doesn’t know yet when the work will be completed.

The FBI is working with the Cabot Police Department, the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office, Entergy Arkansas and Union Pacific Railroad on investigating the incident.

The FBI is asking for anyone with any information that may be related to the incident to contact the FBI’s Little Rock Field Office at 501-221-9100 or

FBI investigators ask that anyone who may have photographs or video of the area share their information with the agency.

EDITORIAL >> Jail expansion makes sense

Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley has presented a convincing plan for a $3 million expansion of the county jail by taking in even more federal prisoners.

The two-year-old jail is already at full capacity by housing federal prisoners who are awaiting trial or preparing to be transferred to prison. It also has its fair share of county inmates.

The federal government reimburses the county for taking in its prisoners, which has helped the jail pay for itself. The sheriff estimates he could more than double his department’s annual budget by taking in 120 federal prisoners at $40 a day. He says it could net $1.74 million more a year; his annual budget now is $1.4 million. That could mean more deputies out on patrol and could even shore up the county’s general fund.

Staley, who has been on the job since January, says the jail was designed to be small to meet the county’s basic needs for jailing. It’s time to double its size and benefit from the federal government’s reimbursements.

But first, Staley needs the quorum court’s approval to issue the bond that will finance the expansion project. The fees from housing federal prisoners should repay the bill and more, according to the sheriff’s proposal.

The justices of the peace, though largely quiet on the plan, have heard about Staley’s plan in the court’s last two meetings. Staley believes they are receptive to the plan.

“I’m just looking for a way to pay for our inmates without putting it on the taxpayer’s back. The federal tax money is our tax money, and we need to bring it back home,” he told The Leader’s Joan McCoy.

As long as the federal government continues to house its inmates here in the near term, Staley’s plan seems well thought out and sustainable.

EDITORIAL >> Area thrives despite cuts

Though some airmen and civilian employees from Little Rock Air Force Base were forced to take unpaid leave in recent weeks because of budget cuts, the area is still getting a boost from several federal projects that are underway.

On Wednesday, a delegation from the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs visited a site in Jacksonville that is a frontrunner to be a new $25 million home for veterans. City officials emphasized Jacksonville’s dedication as a military community.

The city is offering 57 acres of land with utilities off General Samuels Road for free to build the home.

“No one in this state, no one in this country, supports the armed forces like we do. We’re going to keep doing it. We believe that the best site is here,” Rep. Mike Wilson told the group on Wednesday during a tour of the site near the air base’s front gate.

Benton, Fort Smith, Russellville and Searcy have also made proposals to win the veterans home, but Jacksonville’s offer will surely impress Cissy Rucker, director of the state Department of Veterans Affairs, who will decide where to build the home for at least 100 veterans.

The project is expected to create dozens of jobs, which would be refreshing after the city’s unsuccessful bid to attract the State Fair.

We also reported this week that Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward delivered the base’s first C-130J to come here in four years. In the age of sequestration, furloughs and budget cuts, a new plane reaffirms the importance of LRAFB, which is the underpinning of central Arkansas’ economy.

Also recently reported in these pages was Col. Edsel (Archie) Frye’s successful effort to build up the Air Force Reserve Command, which he heads. The group, formed in 2011, will soon have nearly 1,000 reservists and possibly become a standalone Air Force wing.

“Our recruiting efforts have shattered expectations,” Col. Fry said.

The Air National Guard is also thriving despite civilian jobs being cut and reducing officers in other wings.

When Congress realizes the harm it has caused through sequestration, we expect the area will have even more to look forward to.

SPORTS STORY >> Beebe golf team small but talented this year

Leader sportswriter

The Beebe golf team hosted Searcy at Greystone on Thursday for the Badgers’ third match of the season. With only two boys and three girls out for the Badgers, there was no possible way to keep team scores, a predicament that will follow the skeleton crew all season.

On the boys’ side, two potential solid scores were negated by one hole that caused added strokes, as Cole McNeil shot a 44 and Landon Davis finished up with a 43. The Lady Badger golfers continued to show improvement in their scores as well.

“All the girls played about average,” Beebe coach Justin Moore said. “They played pretty good. They’re still getting adjusted to playing golf. They’re doing well and having fun.”

With a group of girls players still trying to find their niche on the golf course and gain experience, boys players McNeil and Davis are the Badgers’ best hope at capturing individual honors this season.

“I’ve got two guys, Landon and Cole,” Moore said. “They’re my players. They are the ones expected to go out and shoot well every day. They’ve done that. You can tell when they go out and play, they know when they’ve cost themselves a stroke. It’s good to have players who can go out and shoot well every day, and when they don’t, they know what causes them to shoot in the 40s.

“We’re still trying to get settled in. This was our third match this year. We’ve played well year so far, my returning guys have. We’ve got about three or four more weeks of it. Three days a week where we’re playing, and then the conference tournament will be rolling around.”

Though they will not be able to compete at the team level during the 5A East Conference tournament due to low personnel numbers, the Badgers as individuals will have an advantage as the host team when the tournament is held at Greystone next month.

The girls players have shown improvement with every match, according to Moore. Sophomore Baylee Halford has lowered her score with every outing, and comes from a golfing family.

“She might not think she’s playing very good, but she’s actually improving stroke wise every time she goes out,” Moore said. “And then Valerie Cook, same thing, she’s shot consistent within one stroke every time. The other one I have is Kaylyn Longing, and she just started golfing two or three months ago. She’s showing improvement.

“Once you start, you make pretty significant jumps quick, and then you hit that point where it takes a couple of years to get better. My three girls are at that point right now where they’ve made pretty serious strides.”

The Badgers will face Searcy again on Monday at Searcy Country Club, and will host Vilonia at Greystone on Tuesday. They will make their second appearance of the season at Red Apple Inn in Heber Springs to take on the Panthers on Thursday.

SPORTS STORY >> Panther tennis finishes in third

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot High School tennis team started the 2013 season with solid play all around at the Searcy Lions Invitational tournament last weekend as both the boys’ and girls’ teams finished third overall out of eight teams.

Seth Smith had the strongest showing amongst the Cabot boys as he advanced all the way to the finals of the tournament in singles play, and on the girls’ side, junior twins Lexi and Tori Weeks also took second place in the tournament in doubles play.

Cabot tennis coach Mary Emily Nash was pleased with the play of her second-place finishers, as well as with the play of the doubles team of Kristen Sumler and Molly Wood, who advanced all the way to the semifinals of the tournament.

“They are superstar athletes,” said Nash of the Weeks sisters, who are both standouts on the Lady Panther track team. “They are good at just about everything that they do. And this is Molly and Kristen’s second year to play together, and this is Tori and Lexi’s third year to play together. So I expect big things from them.”

Sumler and Wood are two of Cabot’s five seniors on the Lady Panthers’ team. The Panthers have seven players total on their team, four of which are seniors. Nash hasspent seven years with the Cabot tennis program and with the experience on both the boys’ and girls’ teams, she expects both groups to compete for the school’s first conference championship during her tenure.

Cabot’s first conference match will be Sept. 5 against Little Rock Central at home.

“Central always has a pretty strong team,” Nash said. “So I really think that’ll give us a better idea of where we stand in the conference, but I really think we’ll be able to compete with them this year. We’ve had some really good groups in the past and some really standout athlete singles players, but I feel like the difference this year is that we can really compete for a conference title instead of just an individual title.

“I have very high expectations for this group. I have several athletes that share sports and do several things, but on the boys’ side, our number one and two (players) are just tennis players. So they spend a lot of time working on their game.”

Smith is the No. 1 singles player for the Panthers and the No. 2 is junior Jacob Dills. For the junior singles players on the girls’ team, Nash said that as of right now her No. 1 and 2 players are Charl Young and Vanessa Wiebling.

“As of right now those are my number one and two, but that’s depending on if someone challenges them and beats them, because we have some kids that are pretty strong as far as being consistent with their play.”

As far as other players to watch for, Nash said that second-year player Jordan Slayden could make some noise as the season progresses.

“This is only her second year to play,” Nash said, “but she’s right up there competing for one of those top spots. So I really feel like she could play number one or two for us as well. Even though it’s just her second year, she puts a lot of time in on the court. She’s got to clean up a few things in her game, but once she fixes those, I feel like she’ll be one of our strong players as well.”

Both the Panther and Lady Panther teams were set to compete at Searcy again on Thursday, but the match was rained out. Cabot will play again Tuesday at home against Bryant.

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers dominate in benefit matches

Leader sports editor

The matches don’t count on the official record, but the Cabot volleyball team got the 2013 season off to a great start at a benefit jamboree at Conway. Several teams took part in the event, with Cabot squaring off against Sheridan and North Little Rock for two sets against each team.

The Lady Panthers hammered Sheridan 25-16 and 25-4. They carried that momentum into a 25-10 win over North Little Rock in game one. With special rules for the multi-team jamboree, the 30-minute time limit ran out in game two with the Lady Wildcats leading 19-16.

“It went quite well,” Cabot coach DeAnna Campbell said. “They all played so well and that’s the thing I like most about this team. They all shine. They all bring something to the table that’s very important for our success. It was a great team performance.”

Campbell says she didn’t mean to hold Sheridan to four points in game two, but says she lost track of the score while focusing on situational execution.

“We were working on stuff that we thought we’d need in the next match,” Campbell said. “If I would’ve realized it was that bad I would have subbed. But then again the only thing this group still struggles with a little bit is confidence. So it might not have been so bad. I mean I never intend to beat anyone like that, there’s just no point. But it might not have been the worst thing for this group right now.”

After an easy win in game one against what’s becoming a spirited rivalry, things got touchy in game two against North Little Rock.

Leading 13-10 with a little more than eight minutes left in the timed set, Cabot served and scored to go up 14-10, that’s when North Little Rock ran three minutes off the continuous clock subbing and discussing different rules with the floor official.

The delay started with several substitutions as the Lady Wildcats’ first-year coach either couldn’t make up her mind or was confused about her rotation. After a series of players running on and off the court, assistant coach Becky Matthews began discussing something with the floor official. Only five minutes remained when play finally resumed.

Campbell protested to the up referee who didn’t intervene, citing the lax rule enforcement of benefit games.

“I understand things are different in these things than in real games, but that was too much,” Campbell said. “My girls were in the middle of their serve and were just standing there for three minutes. ”

The Lady Wildcats broke on the next serve and scored eight-straight points on serve to take a 19-14 lead. Cabot broke serve and scored again on serve to make it 19-16 when time ran out.

“I asked for my three minutes back but I didn’t get it,” Campbell said. “We were about to come back and win anyway. I stopped and looked at the girls on the way off the floor and told them to just tuck this one away. They won’t be able to do all that stalling in conference games.”

Cabot officially opens the regular season on Tuesday when it hosts a tri-match with Jacksonville and Lonoke at Panther Arena.

SPORTS STORY >> Lady ’Rabs open new gym

Leader sportswriter

In Thursday’s first official event at Lonoke High School’s new state-of-the-art arena, the Gina Cox Center, the Lady Jackrabbit volleyball team battled class 3A Jessieville in three competitive exhibition games, but lost all three by scores of 25-20, 25-21 and 25-22.

In the first game, Jessieville never led by more than two points until gaining a 20-17 advantage late. Lady Lions’ senior libero Kaitlyn Moody put her team up four points on the next serve with an ace, and from there, Lonoke was outscored 4-3 down the stretch to set the final score of the first Arkansas Activities Association benefit game.

Though the first game was tight until the end, Jessieville led on all but two occasions and never trailed by more than one point. The second game was just as close as the first, but unlike the first game, Lonoke led most of the way – though the lead never surpassed three points.

Sophomore hitter Jarrelyn McCall had two kills early in game two that put the Lady Jackrabbits up 8-5 and 10-8, but after McCall’s second kill of the match, Jessieville scored the next two points to knot the score up at 10-10.

Senior Lindsey Roland put Lonoke back up with a kill from the left side of the net on the next serve and later picked up an ace to put the home team up 13-11. The Lady Lions added another point to their side of the scoreboard on the next possession, but junior hitter Eboni Willis picked up a kill at the center of the net to give Lonoke a 14-12 lead.

Jessieville responded with two more points to tie the score at 14 apiece, but Lonoke regained the lead after Amanda Rhodes’ serve went into the net. After that, Lonoke really had only two highlights the remainder of game two.

McCall picked up the Lady Jackrabbits’ 16th point on a kill and junior Emily Moore served an ace to give Lonoke a two-point lead at 18-16. Lonoke gained its final three-point lead on the next possession, but after that it was all Jessieville.

The Lady Lions outscored the Lady Jackrabbits 9-2 the rest of the way to win 25-21. Jessieville grabbed its first lead since leading 1-0 on an ace by senior outside hitter Gavin Stills that put the visitors up 21-20.

Lonoke scored on the next serve, but junior right setter Kenzee Hughes gave Jessieville a lead it wouldn’t relinquish on a kill from the right side of the net. The game ended on a kill from the same side by junior middle blocker Juliet MacDonald.

The Lady Lions looked as if they might run away with the third and final game. After taking a 1-0 lead, freshman setter Maddie Back served three aces in a row before putting her next serve into the net for Lonoke’s first point.

Jessieville led by as much as 11-6 through the first portion of the game, but the Lady Jackrabbits responded by scoring the next seven points, capped off by another Moore ace that put Lonoke up 13-11. Unfortunately for Lonoke, Jessieville didn’t stay down long.

The two respective teams battled to an 18-18 tie before the Lady Lions broke the game open with back-to-back aces by Stills that gave the visitors a 20-18 lead. Willis scored Lonoke’s final three points. The first came on a kill at the middle of the net that cut Jessieville’s lead to 22-19.

The Lady Lions scored the next two points before a kill by junior Charley Jo Chesney gave Lonoke serving rights. Trailing 24-20, Willis served back-to-back aces before putting the next one into the net to end the benefit exhibition.

Willis led all players with a match-high seven kills. She also had three aces, two assists and three blocks. McCall was second among all players with five kills. She finished with four blocks. Moore led Lonoke with four aces in the match and senior setter Haylee Whitehurst finished with a match-high five digs.

Lonoke will play its first official match on Tuesday at Panther Arena in Cabot.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

TOP STORY >> Pryor touts plan to wire schools in visit to Cabot

Leader staff writer

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Federal Communications Commission member Jessica Rosenworcel on Monday visited with Cabot School District officials at the Central Administrative Office board room to discuss the need for affordable Internet services and technology equipment in the classrooms.

Pryor and Rosenworcel also went to a 10th-grade high school English class where Google Chromebook laptop computers are being used by students.

Pryor is chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and Internet.

School officials explained to the senator and the commissioner the need for affordable Internet access, the equipment and the capacity to handle the demands of hundreds of students using the computer networks all at the same time. They said the district needs to handle the demand without causing interruptions to service or overloading the system.

Public schools and libraries receive discounts on telephone and Internet services from the federal government’s E-Rate program. Funding is collected through the Universal Service Fund, a fee listed on telephone and cable bills.

“The Universal Service Fundwas created to build phone infrastructure over 70 years ago in rural U.S.,” Cabot School District technology director Kendal Wells explained.

Commissioner Rosenwor-cel said, “E-Rate is the nation’s largest technology educational program. It has been really successful at connecting our schools. The challenge now is no longer about connection. It’s about capacity.”

She said that over the next year the FCC will take a closer look at the E-Rate program to focus on capacity and reduce the bureaucracy. She would like to see the ability for bulk buying of Internet bandwidth, longer funding times instead of yearly deadlines and a simplifying of the application process.

“The program over time has gotten so complicated that we are deterring small and rural schools from applying, the ones that need it most,” Rosenworcel said.

She noted that the demand for E-Rate funding is high and is going to continue to grow.

“The way it is distributed now is school districts are set up in a queue based on the number of students that get free and reduced lunch. The districts at the top of the queue get the greatest discount, but we have to start thinking about capacity and high-speed,” Rocenworcel said.

Superintendent Tony Thurman said schools will need more Internet bandwidth to handle the Common Core tests and to deliver curriculum that is available on the Internet. The number of devices used on school campuses is growing rapidly.

Cabot has 10,300 students in 15 schools with 2,100 students at the high school. The district has 492 wireless access points where computer devices can connect to a network.

“With the move toward every student having a device in their hands, the district will need 300 more access points in the next two to three years,” Thurman said.

The Cabot School District is provided with 100 megabytes of Internet bandwidth by the Arkansas Department of Information Systems. The district spent 7 percent of its $900,000 technology budget on bandwidth, purchasing an additional 100 megabytes of bandwidth from Suddenlink and 2,000 megabytes of bandwidth from Windstream.

The annual cost of the district’s 2,200 megabytes of bandwidth is $162,000. E-Rate pays $94,300, and the district is left to pay $68,300. The district receives $56,000 in E-Rate funding for phone service this year.

Wells said, “We would struggle to cover that amount if we didn’t have E-Rate.”

Another piece of the issue is what can be done about low-income families that don’t have Internet at home.

Thurman told the school board at its Tuesday meeting that the district and Suddenlink have partnered for the “Connect to Complete” program that would allow those students on free and reduced lunch to pay a $9.95 a month for Internet service and be exempt from set-up fees. Parents who are interested can call Suddenlink and the company will verify that they are eligible for the program.

“For a lot of those kids, they can’t do some of things we want them to do at home. Even if we put their information in a “cloud”, they can work from home, but cannot get the connectivity,” Thurman said.

Pryor asked why Cabot has two Internet service providers.

Thurman said it was advantageous to have two different carriers because, if the district loses one provider, the district can still operate. “If I’m a 100 percent provider and it goes down, this district is closed,” he explained.

Thurman added that the current amount of bandwidth will support the district for three years.

“We are one of the top districts in how much we are offering. This is very progressive for Arkansas. We are in a good state, but it is going to change tremendously in the next few years,” Thurman said.

He continued, “As far along as we are in this state, we are still not where we need to be, even here, to be able to do the things with technology in our classrooms kids really need us to be doing.”

Thurman said that in Arkansas all the attention is on the ability to test. He said there are another 175 days children need to be able to access technology. Students need to be able get online and stay online, Thurman said.

He said the district has been proactive in upgrading its technology infrastructure so that it can handle the heavy demand for computer devices.

“When the students come to school, if you can’t have more than three or four computers running online at the same time, causing them to “buffer” for five minutes, that’s not going to work,” Thurman explained.

He added that the district has been committed to technology infrastructure over the past seven years, when it has was cool for school districts to be in the news for students having their own laptop computers to take home. At the school board meeting, Thurman explained that those districts are in trouble because they bought devices before the infrastructure, unlike Cabot.

Thurman said the district used hundreds of thousands of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds for electrical upgrades, access points and wireless structures.

The federal stimulus money helped kickstart the district to where it is today with its technology infrastructure Thurman noted.

Wells suggested that Pryor and Rosenworcel let E-Rate funding continue funding Internet bandwidth and also start funding the equipment that serves and delivers bandwidth to the classroom with the same priority.

“We can bring all the bandwidth to a district, but if the network can’t handle it, it doesn’t do us a bit of good,” Wells said.

Thurman said, “This district has developed its own Wiki-based platform. We have taken all the learning standards and transformed them over to Common Core standards. Our teachers can go onto our own locked website and can pull up any learning expectations and get sample lessons to use, most often dealing with some type of technology.”

Thurman said the district has chosen Chromebooks because those laptop computers were more cost effective for the district. Files are saved using a “cloud,” an on-line storage space, instead of a computer or a disk.

Students, beginning in kindergarten, are trained to put school work on a “cloud” so the district doesn’t have to have file space.

Pryor and Rosenworcel toured a high school classroom to see students learning how to store files and update their accounts. Pryor told the students why he and the FCC commissioner were at there because “we had a (Senate Commerce Field) hearing, I’m on the Commerce committee and chair of subcommittee that oversees communications, technology and Internet in the Senate. We did the hearing this morning, came here to see you guys, and tomorrow (Tuesday), the commissioner will talk with the Arkansas Telecommuni-cations Association.”

A member of Pryor’s staff said the senator made a visit the school district because it is on the edge of technology and seeing the results of spending federal stimulus money to build and upgrade technology.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Schools in session

School is in full swing, yellow buses abound and this is the time when students, teachers, parents and the community need to vow to make this a great school year.

As they say at teacher seminars, students must be all that they can be.

That means don’t just show up at school and be lackadaisical about it, don’t sit on your brain, don’t go with an attitude or plan to be rude to adults at the school.

The recent round of test scores were far from stellar, except at the usual schools: Cabot, Little Rock Air Force Base, Landmark and Lisa Academy charter schools. We expect the same from the other schools because we expect them to raise responsible, successful adults, especially if we want the area to grow and prosper and attract middle-class families.

Students need to be pumped, read as much as possible and complete homework and ask, ask, ask if they don’t understand something. Teachers don’t mind questions. Questions help the teachers do what they do best — help steer the students in the right direction.

Teachers, you must be all you can be. Teach, facilitate, coach and mentor to the best of your ability. Do not let a student slip through. If you can’t get through to them, find someone who can. Give students meaningful, relevant homework, relate what they must learn to life. Show them that you care about them over test scores.

Administrators, you must be all you can be.

Principals, assistant principals, and various central office staffers need to remember their No. 1 job is not to protect their office kingdoms, but to give the teachers the tools needed to give the students what they need. Put ladder climbing on the back burner and stay focused on the prize — well-rounded, independent students who use creative thinking.

Parents, you are not off the hook either. You must strive to be the best that you can be too.

How? Be involved in your children’s education. Know what is happening at school. Visit the schools and talk with — not yell at — the teachers. Provide your children with necessary school supplies, the emotional support they need, the cheering they need and a proper place and resources to complete homework.

The community must be all it can be.

Businesses need to encourage employees to take an hour a week to visit a neighboring school and volunteer to help a struggling reader or someone confused about math. Businesses need to offer incentives to students who strive to do well. The community should help provide supplies for students and teachers if needed. And the community needs to support Jacksonville’s efforts to obtain its own school district.

Every time students step into a business the owner should ask how school is going and how their grades are — let that student know that education is important.

We must be all we can be. Our students’ futures depend on it.

— Rick Kron

TOP STORY >> Cabot City Council votes to add security to court

Leader staff writer

The Cabot City Council passed a resolution Monday night to spend $47,000 to begin making the district court located in the city annex more secure.

Mayor Bill Cypert assured the council before the vote that the purchase of cameras and locks for the building is only the first phase of the plan.

The metal detectors they requested during an agenda meeting earlier this month will be part of the second phase, he said.

Aldermen Ed Long and Ann Gilliam also said during that meeting two weeks ago that purses and other bags are no longer allowed in circuit court in Lonoke, so they shouldn’t allowed in the Cabot courtroom. Cypert said Monday that a ban on bags could be included in the second phase.

n The mayor and council also recognized Jay Lallu, owner of Cabot Days Inn, for allowing the parks department to use his swimming pool for an exercise class that had been held at the community center pool, which was closed for repairs.

Lallu is a member of the Cabot Advertising and Promotions Commission. He said after the meeting that he asked during a commission meeting where the classes would be held when the community center pool was closed and was told that they would have to be canceled.

Lallu said it was not a large inconvenience for his guests to have the pool unavailable from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday. He has updated his website to alert potential guests of the change. And he offers an extended checkout time in case any children feel like they missed time they should have had in the pool.

The arrangement has worked well for the month or so it has been in place, he said, and he sees no reason why it won’t continue to work until the pool reopens sometime in the winter.

On most days, 20 to 25 park patrons are in the pool, Lallu said. He is glad they are able to continue their exercise class because many are elderly and exercising on a floor would be more difficult.

The donation of his pool was officially recognized as a “Random Act of Kindness,” a recognition program started when state Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) was mayor.

The seven-year-old community center will be undergoing repair for the rest of the year. The center was damaged by a faulty dehumidification system. Repairs will cost about $700,000. The cost has been divided between the city, the parks department and the A&P Commission.

The city’s contribution of $250,000 has left the city a budget with little wiggle room. n The mayor mentioned last month that he is looking for a new location for Central Fire Station, which is across from city hall on Pine Street and is the oldest station in operation.

He said after the council meeting Monday that he is in negotiations for a location but is not ready to announce which site at this time. However, money to purchase the property will be in the budget for 2014.

• The council passed a resolution recognizing Billye Everett for her service as director of the Cabot Chamber of Commerce.

• The council passed a resolution amending the city budget to hire an additional code officer. The city will pay $10,667 for the rest of the year for salary and benefits and $23,000 for a new vehicle.

• The council passed an ordinance accepting the annexation of a parcel of land on Hwy. 5 known as the Troutman/ Grisham Annexation.

The annexation includes a mobile home park commercial property and the right-of way of Hwy. 5 and Rockwood Road that joins the property.

TOP STORY >> Principal gets into trenches

Leader staff writer

On the first day of school at Murrell Taylor Elementary in Jacksonville, students and parents alike wouldn’t have recognized Myeisha Haywood as the new principal.

That is because, as she said, “I want the teachers to know I’ll get in the trenches with them. We’re fighting the same fight.”

She started the day opening car doors to escort kids to the front doors and kneeling down to put wristbands on the bus riders as they arrived.

The wristbands informed teachers, staff and the students which bus the students needed to board at the end of the day.

Haywood’s next step was clearing the crowded and cramped school office of parents with children who were not registered or parents that needed related issues addressed. She patiently and politely ushered them to the media center, where everyone could sit down as they waited.

Then the new principal was off to make her rounds, offering directions along to the way to a few parents and students who seemed lost.

To one of the first classes she popped into, Haywood said, “I’m going to be visiting this classroom because ya’ll are leaders and you are always going to be doing what you’re supposed to be doing in this classroom, right?”

She turned to this reporter on her jaunt to the next room, explaining, “It’s good to take a few seconds for them to see my face.”

That face appeared to have a smile that just wouldn’t quit. It paired perfectly with Haywood’s booming, joy-filled voice.

One of her next stops was the wing dedicated to children with special needs. Haywood noted that the school has a high population of special-needs kids.

While most campuses have one or two classes, Murrell Taylor Elementary has four, plus a fifth class for students with behavioral issues.

It is in that wing that the new principal learned a paraprofessional did not show up for work and wasn’t answering calls. A teacher tells her the message on the paraprofessional’s phone says the number has been disconnected.

But nothing can shake the smile from Haywood’s face. She tells the teacher to send her an e-mail about the incident while assuring her it will be taken care of.

Later on, Haywood encountered the second problem of the day. A disgruntled parent came in wanting to know why her daughter was held back.

When the parent stepped out of the new principal’s office, she seemed satisfied with the answer she received. Haywood explained that she told the parent the student could be re-tested in a few weeks to see whether she should be held back or not.

The new principal continued her rounds, visiting all the kindergarteners and telling several of them, “Because you’re my friends, I expect you to treat each other nicely.”

Haywood explained that she had heard the school has a problem with bullying, and that is unacceptable.

After her rounds were complete, the new principal noted that this would be her daily routine, not just something to do on the first day.

Haywood doesn’t plan to be in her office much, and said she hasn’t even had time to organize things yet.

The new principal explained, “I’m going to be proactive. I am one who really believes you have to be in the classrooms.”

Haywood is already being proactive by making several changes, like putting a 45-minute intervention/enrichment period in the students’ daily schedules.

During that period, kids who are struggling can get help while those who aren’t struggling will receive a lesson challenging them to learn beyond the classroom.

Haywood has also changed the schedules of fifth- and fourth-graders to make their transition to middle school easier.

Fifth-graders don’t have just one teacher and one classroom anymore. There are three teachers in three rooms who handle their lessons.

There is one teacher for math, one for literacy and one for science and social studies.

Switching classes like this is similar to what they’ll have to do in middle school, Haywood explained. In middle school, students typically rotate to seven classes in different rooms with different teachers for 50-minute lessons.

To help fourth-graders ease into the fifth-grade schedule, the new principal said they have two teachers they rotate to. One of them teaches literacy and social studies while the other handles math and science lessons.

This arrangement helps teachers too by allowing them to focus on their strongest area of study, Haywood said.

She also praised her teachers for their efforts to go above and beyond.

Teachers have one 45-minute planning period each school day.

They were meeting for professional development — called the professional learning community — after school, but kept running into issues of teachers not being able to make it because of bus duty or other obligations.

So the teachers agreed to give up one planning period a week to meet for the professional learning community. Now they have one in-school meeting and one after-school meeting each week.

“I’m proud of my teachers for this. It lets you know the attitude and culture of the school is that of we do what it takes,” Haywood said.

About her approach to leading the school, she continued, “I can’t stand chaos.”

This is why another change the new principal has brought about is procedures that concern how things like bathroom breaks are handled.

Any activity that takes away from instruction time is governed by procedures designed to minimize how much instruction time is lost, Haywood explained.

“We want to account for all our time,” she said.

Those procedures include having students line up single file on the right side of the hall with their feet two tiles from the wall.

But what Haywood really wants to focus on is community and parental involvement.

“I feel like in order to reach kids we have to have the support of our community,” she said.

The school’s theme this year is “MTES ROCKS!” That is an acronym for “Murrell Taylor Elementary School Reaching Out to Catapult Kids to Success.”

Haywood said information is key to making this theme a reality.

“Every decision I make is going to be driven by data,” she noted.

Haywood continued, “This year, I want to see growth. When I say growth, I mean growth in student achievement. I want teachers to grow independently. I want to see growth in community partnerships and parental involvement.”

But she doesn’t want the staff or teachers to blame low test scores on a lack of community and parental support. Haywood said she, the other administrators, staff and teachers need to be accountable.

Haywood explained, “The buck stops here, and that’s the attitude we have to have.”

Her first day on the job was July 19.

Haywood was most recently a middle school assistant principal for the North Little Rock School District.

Before that she served as the Pulaski County Special School District’s dean of students at Fuller Middle School in Little Rock.

Haywood began career in education as a middle school teacher in the Hope School District.

She worked as a special education teacher and then as an elementary literacy and social studies teacher in Arkadelphia.

Haywood is certified as a pre-kindergarten through grade 12 building administrator.

She graduated from Henderson State University in Arkadelphia with a bachelor’s of arts degree in psychology and a master’s of arts degree in teaching and in educational leadership.

TOP STORY >> General flies in C-130J

Leader senior staff writer

Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward, director of the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, Tues-day piloted the first new C-130J delivered to Little Rock Air Force Base since 2009.

Woodward, who earned her C-130 wings at Little Rock, piloted tail No. 05728 intended for the 314th Air Training Wing — that’s the so-called C-130 school house — to touchdown at 1:15 p.m. This is the first of five C-130Js slated for delivery to the base in 2013.

Woodward is a command pilot who has flown nine aircraft variants, including the C-130J.

“This aircraft delivery is one of the highlights of my career,” Woodward said.

“To deliver it to the Mecca of the C-130 world, the Nation’s Tactical Airlift Center of Excellence, holds a special significance.

“This plane is even more remarkable because it represents the special bond between Little Rock airmen and the outstanding civilian community here.”

Among those in attendance were Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.), state Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock), Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher, Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert, Maumelle Mayor Mike Watson and Milton Crenshaw, 95, who is among the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen. Wood-ward called him “a legendary American aviator.”

Twenty-five area leaders signed the plane before it left Lockheed-Martin’s Marietta, Ga., facilities, including Crenshaw. Woodward said, “The Tuskegee Airmen have a special place in my heart and in our nation’s history. I think it is incredibly cool that a plane that will continue to make history for our nation and our Air Force will carry with it the autograph of an American Airpower legend.”

“This is just one plane,” Woodward said, “but this plane will significantly increase C-130J pilot and loadmaster productions both for our Air Force and for our international partners.”

“When I was the 18th Air Force vice commander, I witnessed first-hand the incredible value of the C-130 after the horrible earthquake in Haiti,” she said. “Nearly all airlift in and out of Haiti was via C-130s; over 342 missions moving over 6,000 passengers and nearly 2,500 short tons of cargo. Many of those planes and crews were from the 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base.”

Woodward noted that both Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom leaned heavily on combat airlift provided by the C-130s. She said, “Early in those operations, the C-130Es and Hs bore the brunt, and over the last several years, the J has established itself as the backbone of our operations in the (area of responsibility).”

“Last year, C-130Js flew 23,000 sorties, moving 55,000 tons of cargo and 133,000 passengers,” the general said.

She said that when she became commander of U.S. Air Forces Africa and 17th Air Force in Ramstein, Germany, her boss expected her to get qualified in the C-21, like her predecessor. “Why, when we have those awesome C-130s?” Woodward asked. “I got checked out in the C-130J, right here in Little Rock.”

When we were asked to protect the Libyan people and stand against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, nearly 3,000 personnel and over 2,000 tons of munitions and equipment…were delivered on extremely short notice.”

She said all of this was possible because of the incredible synergy between the Air National Guard, Reserves, AETC and AMC of Team Little Rock that represents the Air Force’s total-force concept at its best.

Col. Scott Brewer, commander of the 314th Air Education Wing, recognized Crenshaw and had him stand to an enthusiastic response.

Brewer called Crenshaw “an amazing individual and an inspiration to me all the time. We know you as the original Tuskegee Airman. It is your amazing spirit, and I challenge any of you to try to keep up with that man. At 95 years young, he is an amazing inspiration.”

In introducing her, Brewer said, “Gen. Woodward is an incredible leader who has looked out for airmen her entire professional career. She has commanded at the squadron, the group, the wing and the numbered Air Force level, including serving as a coalition forces air-component commander for Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya. She’s also been the Air Force’s chief of safety.”

The 314th Airlift Wing, which trains 2,000 students a year, is the C-130 “Center of Excellence” in partnership with the 19th Airlift Wing, the Arkansas Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve.

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Panthers show energy

Leader sports editor

As preseason practices continue, the Cabot volleyball team continues to build confidence. The team has six seniors, many of whom have started or been regular players in all three years of DeAnna Campbell’s time as head coach.

This week is the first of after-school practice, and things took a while to get going for the Lady Panthers. After the team divided into varsity versus junior varsity, competitiveness kicked in and action picked up.

After being involved in four-straight successful blocks, senior Taylor Bitely began to lead the energy rise among the team.

“I get really excited about blocks,” said Bitely. “Just that feeling of shutting the other team down, it’s really fun.”

Bitely indicates the team will be more vocal on the court this year, and not just communicating during points, something which the team has lacked, but in emotional expression.

“In the past we’ve been much less vocal on the court than I think we’ll be this year,” Bitely said. “Having so many seniors, we understand that we all have the leadership role.”

Cabot had just three seniors last year with two starting, and all three were understated players. A changing of the guard took place in the regular-season finale against Lake Hamilton last season. The Lady Panthers sent the three seniors out with a minor upset victory, and for the first time showed the kind of on-court energy and vocalization that is likely to be a staple of this year’s team.

“There’s probably a pretty easy explanation for that,” said Campbell. “That’s really my style. I encourage that. These seniors were my first group and I started four of them as sophomores. They know what I want, plus they have that personality. I teased my seniors last year because they were so quiet. I’d tell them they should be librarians. But this group wants to get loud and they will be. Taylor can be downright obnoxious on the court and I like that.”

While a big senior class with lots of shared playing time can lead to better leadership, the Lady Panthers also expect all the shared experience to lead to more success.

“We’re a much older team,” Bitely said. “We’re finally a team of seniors and juniors instead of really sophomore heavy. We’re finally one of those teams like Conway that has all those girls that have played together for so long. We haven’t been together since 10- or 11-years old like some of them, but we’ve all been playing together for three full years now, so I think we’ll definitely get more wins.”

The earliest evidence of Cabot’s improvement came in the first team camp that took place in late July in Fayetteville. Cabot didn’t win the camp final, but did win its four-team division, a first for this group.

“Winning the division in Fayetteville was a big step,” Bitely said. “We’ve played in a lot of camps and never done that. It just showed us that we’re playing to a better standard and we expect to play at a higher level this year.”

The Lady Panthers get their first chance to showcase themselves on Thursday when they travel to Conway for a benefit jamboree. The varsity squad will play one set each against Sheridan and North Little Rock. The junior varsity will square off against Vilonia’s JV.

The regular season opens at home next Tuesday with a tri-match that includes Lonoke and Jacksonville.

SPORTS STORY >> Carlisle coaches keeping it fresh

Leader sportswriter

Things are rolling along according to schedule for Carlisle as first-year head coach Brandon Barbaree prepares his Bison for next week’s scrimmage game at Dumas.

The Bison had a successful week of practice last week in full-contact mode, and will continue that way until Thursday, when Barbaree will switch them to more of a game-week type of scenario to prepare for the Bobcats.

“Last week, we had five pretty good practices, starting with just the weather being cool,” Barbaree said. “It always makes it a lot easier when that weather doesn’t zap you. Our energy level was high, and I thought our kids really flew around. Even with the rules of practice time changing up, in full pads, I thought we have five pretty physical practices that we can definitely build off of.”

The Bison face the same dilemma as practically every other 2A football team interms of limited depth. With many of his top players going both ways, and just enough spare linemen, Barbaree said the depth issue is not a concern.

“The ones are the ones,” Barbaree said. “Our starters are a step ahead of our second guys. We’re lucky to have a couple of guys on the offensive line that can fill in to where there’s not a big drop off. As far as backs, we’re pretty solid in the backfield, and at linebacker, same guys. Our guys just flip around and play both ways. I think depth wise we’re pretty good with the skill positions.”

Barbaree estimated that about 90 percent of the offense is installed at this point, in particular the package to be used in the season opener at home against McCrory on Sept. 6. As far as players stepping up on the practice field, he noted the efforts of Colton Isbell, who has taken on a leadership role on the defensive line, and has also shown good technique. Dan Sage has also established himself on the offensive line.

“Our seniors have led the way,” Barbaree said. “I can’t ever take anything away from those guys, because they’re here every day and they work hard. Our numbers have held strong, and we just keep pushing forward.”

The third week of practice is usually when monotony becomes an issue for a lot of teams, but Barbaree said the coaching staff has taken strides to keep things fresh on the practice field.

“I think as coaches, we’re so caught up in this, the way we’ve always done,” Barbaree said. “We’ve tried to change practice up to where our kids aren’t getting that stale feeling. You’re always facing that thing where kids are ready to play. Coaches love practice, and if you can find kids who love to practice, it’s a plus, but kids want to play in those games.”

Barbaree said the plan from Monday forward was physical practices on Tuesday and Wednesday before getting into game preparation on Thursday. The Bison will scrimmage on Aug. 27 at Dumas.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot airs it out on Monday

Leader sports editor

The first day of after-school practice for the Cabot football Panthers saw a slight departure from the norm at Panther Stadium. Perhaps it was a major departure, as Cabot spent most of its offensive work on the passing game.

It was the first after-school practice and the first time the team spent such extended time on passing the ball. Pass blocking was the focal point of coach Mike Malham most of the time, but route running also got lots of attention.

Malham said it was no big secret that the Panthers may pass more this year, but did begrudge new rules that limit practice time, forcing the late start to the new formation.

“You can only get so much in since there’s basically no two-a-days anymore,” Malham said. “The way they’ve done it now you lose about eight practices from what you used to get. I don’t know if we’ll be able to get this in and get it good enough to use or not.”

Senior Keith Pledger, a three-year starter at tight end, is one of the players going out for passes. When Cabot has thrown in the past, many times it has been to the tight end on single-receiver routes. Pledger has been the target on that play many times in his career, but says what took place on Monday was new.

“We’ve never done anything like this before,” Pledger said after Monday’s practice. “This is all new stuff and it’s the first practice where we’ve worked on it. It was a little rough but I think by the end of the week we’ll get it down.”

Pledger also has to block many times instead of run routes, which he says is the key to being successful at throwing the ball.

“It’s definitely a little different for the line,” Pledger said. “Lining up in this open set, you lose a tight end, so you have to make adjustments to keep somebody from shooting through and getting the quarterback. It’s all new but I think we’ll catch on.”

Monday’s practice was strictly a teaching session. The offense went full speed against a defense that went less than half speed out of several formations, showing blockers and receivers what to expect, but applying no pressure.

Defensive pressure will likely intensify as the week progresses.

Running backs are learning routes and blocking schemes while four players shared time at split end.

Junior Jake Ferguson will likely be the starter at wideout when Cabot goes to the formation. He was named the 2012 sophomore of the year by one publication for his 97 tackles and six interceptions on defense, but has spent as much time working at receiver over the summer as he did working on defense. Senior Jordan Burke, who Malham says is the fastest player on the team, followed Ferguson in the rotation. He is also a returning starter at cornerback. Junior Brian Marshall, who is a starting defensive end, and sophomore Holden Barnes, who will see plenty of time in the defensive backfield as well, filled out the split-end rotation during Monday’s practice.

The Panthers have two exhibition games in the next week, but don’t expect to see a lot of the passing game in them.

“I doubt we’ll show much of this in these games,” Pledger said. “I think it will catch some people off guard.”

The Panthers Red-White game will be on Friday. Cabot then hosts its benefit scrimmage game against Lake Hamilton on Tuesday at Panther Stadium.

Monday, August 19, 2013

TOP STORY >> Benchmark: Middle schools struggle

Leader staff writer

This is the second in a series of articles examining Benchmark scores at area schools.

Whether it’s larger schools, the challenges of maturity, more distractions or something else, middle school students — sixth, seventh and eighth graders — don’t score as well on the state’s mandated Benchmark math and literacy exams as their younger counterparts.

It seems that their scores dropped an average of 10 points in both math and literacy compared to third, fourth and fifth graders.

Tops in the area among sixth graders in math were both Cabot middle schools and Lonoke Middle School. Cabot Middle School North was 87 percent proficient or advanced, Cabot Middle School South was at 86 percent and Lonoke Middle, just a point behind at 85 percent on the literacy exam, was tops with 88 percent of its sixth graders at proficient or better. Cabot Middle School South was at 86 percent and Cabot Middle School North was at 83 percent.

Required by No Child Left Behind, all Arkansas students, third through eighth grade, are required to take the annual math and literacy exams. All students are supposed to be working at or above grade level by the end of the 2013-2014 school year, meaning scores of proficient or advanced.

At the other end of the spectrum was Jacksonville Middle School where about half, or 51 percent were proficient or advanced and 23 percent were below basic. The school was also at the bottom rung in literacy with just 40 percent making the cut and 15 percent scoring below basic.

Scores of basic means students need some help to accomplish grade level work and a score of below basic means the student needs constant attention to be successful at grade level.

In seventh grade, no one came close to Ahlf Junior High in Searcy where 88 percent of students were proficient or better. A distant second, 14 points behind, were Lisa Academy North in Sherwood and Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter Middle School, both were 74 percent proficient or better. In literacy, Ahlf was the only area school to hit the 90 percent mark proficient or better in literacy. Lisa Academy was at 86 percent.

England, Jacksonville and Carlisle seventh graders were at the bottom of the score in math. England had only 44 percent of its students score proficient or better and 26 percent were in the below basic category Jacksonville had 49 percent make the cut and 26 percent faltered.

Carlisle was at 51 percent proficient or better and 16 percent below basic. In literacy, the school’s seventh graders were by far the lowest scoring with just 39 percent scoring proficient or advanced. Next was Sylvan Hills and Northwood middle schools, more than 30 points higher at 71 percent proficient or better.

In eighth grade, Ahlf Junior High in Searcy and Lisa Academy North in Sherwood tied for tops in the area in math. Both schools were at 84 percent proficient or advanced In literacy, top honors also went to Ahlf at 90 percent proficient or better, with Cabot Middle School School North at 86 percent. Following close behind was Cabot Middle School South and Lisa Academy North, both at 84 percent proficient or better.

Not doing well were the eighth graders at Jacksonville Middle School, where just 52 percent did well, and Cabot’s Academic Center for Excellence at 56 percent.

What follows is a list of all sixth, seventh and eighth grade scores in the area.


Sixth graders at Beebe Middle School were 70 percent proficient or advanced in math with seven percent below basic. In literacy, the school was 82 percent proficient or better and three percent below basic.

Searcy’s Southwest Middle School was 81 percent proficient or better in math with five percent below basic. The school was 82 percent proficient or better in literacy with 5 percent below basic.

Out of 140 Lonoke sixth graders, 85 percent of them made the cut, while three percent faltered in math. On the literacy side, it was 88 percent proficient or better with 3 percent below basic.

England Elementary was at 64 percent proficient or better in math while 18 percent were below basic. In literacy, 55 percent made the grade and 9 percent were below basic

Sixth graders in Carlisle were 66 proficient or better in math, with 11 percent below basic. In literacy, 77 percent did well and 9 percent faltered.

Cabot Middle School South had 86 percent make the cut while 5 percent were below basic. In literacy, 86 percent were proficient or advanced while just one percent was below basic. At Cabot Middle School North, 87 percent did well in math and 3 percent were below basic. The school was 83 percent proficient or better in literacy with 5 percent below basic.

Jacksonville Middle School sixth graders were 51 percent proficient or better in math with 23 percent below basic. In literacy, 40 percent made the cut while 15 percent faltered.

Sylvan Hills was at 61 percent proficient or advanced in math with 16 percent below basic. The school was 65 percent proficient or better in literacy with 6 percent below basic.

Northwood had 69 percent of it students make the grade and 15 percent falter in math. In literacy, 64 percent were proficient or better while 7 percent were below basic.

Lisa Academy North was at 75 percent proficient or advanced in math while 2 percent were below basic. In literacy, it was 69 percent making the cut while 2 percent faltered.

At Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter Middle, 82 percent of students did well in math and 6 percent scored below basic The school was 66 percent proficient or better in literacy with four percent faltering. At the Flightline Upper Academy, 82 percent did well in math and 6 percent scored below basic. In literacy, 77 percent did well and there were no students in the below basic category.


Beebe Junior High seventh graders were 69 percent proficient or advanced in math, and 12 percent scored below basic. In literacy, the school was 76 percent proficient or better with 4 percent below basic.

At Ahlf Junior High in Searcy 88 percent did well in math and 6 percent faltered. In literacy, 90 percent were proficient or better and 2 percent were below basic.

Lonoke Middle School had 66 percent proficient or better in math and 15 percent below basic. The school was 73 percent proficient or advanced in literacy and 4 percent of the students scored below basic.

At England High School, the seventh graders were 44 percent proficient or better in math, while 26 percent were below basic. In literacy, 76 percent made the grade and 8 percent faltered.

Out of the 57 seventh graders at Carlisle High School, 51 percent made the cut while 16 percent were below basic. In literacy, 74 percent were proficient or better and 4 percent were below basic.

Students at Cabot Junior High South were 72 percent proficient or better in math with 12 percent below basic. In literacy, the school was 81 percent proficient or advanced and 1 percent below basic. At Cabot Junior High North, 72 percent made the cut in math while 10 percent were below basic. In literacy, 82 percent did well and 2 percent faltered.

PCSSD, as a district, had 60 percent of its seventh graders score proficient or advanced in math and 20 percent were below basic. In literacy, 67 percent did well and 8 percent were below basic.

At Jacksonville Middle School, 49 percent were proficient or better and 26 were below basic in math. For literacy, 39 percent made the cut and 18 percent faltered. Sylvan Hills Middle School was 65 percent proficient or better in math with 16 percent scoring below basic. The school had 71 percent make the cut in literacy with 6 percent below basic. Northwood Middle School was 62 percent proficient or better in math, while 19 percent were below basic. In literacy, 71 percent did well, while 8 percent faltered.

Lisa Academy North had 74 percent score proficient or advanced in math with 6 percent in the below basic range. In literacy, 86 percent of the students did well and none were in the below basic category

At Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter Middle the students were 74 percent proficient or better in math with 16 percent below basic. In literacy, 72 percent did well while 2 percent were below basic. At the Lighthouse’s Upper Academy, 68 percent did well in math while 14 percent faltered. The school was 78 percent proficient or better in literacy and 6 percent were below basic.


Out of 253 students at Beebe Junior High, 69 percent were proficient or advanced in math, while 14 percent were below basic. In literacy, 78 percent of the students did well while just 2 percent were below basic.

At Searcy’s Ahlf Junior High, 84 percent of the students scored proficient or better in math and 6 percent were below basic. The school was 90 percent proficient or better in literacy with 1 percent scoring below basic.

Lonoke Middle School had 75 percent do well in math but 16 percent scored below basic. In literacy, 82 percent were proficient or advanced with 2 percent below basic.

Among the eighth graders at England High School, just 48 percent scored proficient or better on math and 31 percent were in the below basic category. In literacy, 77 percent made the grade while 6 percent faltered.

Carlisle High School had 59 percent of its eighth graders make the cut in math and 15 percent were below basic. For literacy, the school was 77 percent proficient or better with four percent below basic.

At Cabot Junior High South, 72 percent did well in math, but 14 percent were below basic. In literacy, the school was 84 percent proficient or better and 3 percent below basic. Students at Cabot Junior High North were 74 percent proficient or better in math and 12 percent below basic. In literacy, 86 percent did well while just one percent faltered. Out of the 16 students at Cabot’s Academic Center for Excellence, only 25 percent did well in math while 44 percent scored below basic. The school was 56 percent proficient or better in literary and had 6 percent score below basic.

In PCSSD, 52 percent of the students did well in math, while 27 faltered. In literacy, the district had 67 percent score proficient or better and 9 percent were at below basic.

Jacksonville Middle School had 35 percent proficient or advanced in math and 40 percent below basic. In literacy 52 percent were proficient or better and 12 percent faltered. At Sylvan Hills Middle School, 59 percent did well in math and 19 percent were below basic. The school had 70 percent make the grade in literacy and 6 percent below basic. At Northwood Middle School 63 percent were proficient or better in math and 21 percent were below basic. In literacy, 77 percent did well and 2 percent faltered.

At Lisa Academy North 84 percent of the eighth graders did well in math and four percent were below basic. Likewise, 84 percent made the cut in literacy and two percent scored below basic.

Out of the 50 students at Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter Middle 48 percent scored proficient or better in math, while 40 percent were below basic.

At Jacksonville Light-house’s Upper Academy, students were 61 percent proficient or better in math with 15 percent scoring below basic. In literacy, 82 percent were proficient or advanced with four percent below basic.