Friday, May 23, 2014

TOP STORY>>Funding minority students

Leader senior staff writer

An innovative, $10 million plan would track, tutor and guide at-risk Pulaski County Special School District students from ninth grade, sending them to college on some Saturdays and, upon graduation, to a three-week, on-campus, summer immersion, then on to college with scholarships.

That’s if U.S. District Judge Price Marshall approves the motion filed Friday morning by the Joshua Intervenors and PCSSD.

Oversight and guidance would continue in college, particularly for students with remedial needs.

The Joshua Intervenors and PCSSD agreed upon the Dr. Charles Donaldson Scholars Academy, intended to address disparity in the academic achievement of minority and economically disadvantaged students, but at the immediate expense of some existing elementary programs, instructors and support staff not specifically required by state law.

The plan would help 250 to 500 PCSSD seniors immediately and prepare 8,000 to 10,000 PCSSD students over the next four years for college at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Philander Smith College, Joshua attorney John Walker and PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess said at a hastily called press conference.


“There have been a lot of momentous days at PCSSD,” Guess said in opening, “but none more significant than today.” He called this the launch of “a new venture that we hope will have a dramatic effect on the children who need a dramatic effect.”

Walker said, “I hope it is momentous. But I have a history of entering into agreements with the three districts (including Little Rock and North Little Rock) and seldom did any reach true fruition. It didn’t reach the students.”

As far as unitary obligations, “This doesn’t release them from anything,” Walker said of PCSSD. “It obliges them to do more and different.”

“It combines the collegiate approach to K-12 education and commits the colleges to help in some way they have not in the past,” he said.


“I have never retreated from the idea that there must be integrated education,” Walker said.

That may be so, but people familiar with the long-standing adversarial relationship between Walker and PCSSD believe it has morphed into one of cooperation and collegiality in the past year or so.

Regarding the new initiative, it was begun when Walker read of the success Donaldson’s program had with other students and asked him to create a similar plan for PCSSD, Donaldson said after the press conference. He said it took eight or nine months to adapt his existing program to fit the district.

Donaldson, who is technically retired, hasn’t been paid for his efforts, but Walker said Donaldson and Amber Smith, the Donaldson Scholars Academy’s summer bridge program coordinator, would likely have salaries written into the final agreement.


Styled as a supplement, amendment and modification to desegregation Plan 2000 for student achievement, the plan would help prepare students from the time they enter ninth grade for college and college life, including a component called Summer Bridge when students would spend three intensive weeks living in college dorms, taking classes and leaving behind their car keys and cell phones, according to Donaldson.

Donaldson, vice chairman emeritus of UALR, nodded out the window in Guess’ Central Office, saying, “I taught next door at Fuller.”

“Hold us accountable,” Donaldson said. “We will achieve something not previously achieved.”

“We genuinely believe every student can achieve, if we help create a vision including college graduation,” said Smith. “We utilize relationships and pair high school students with current college students. We are academically rigorous, hands on and with cultural activities. And fun should be incorporated with learning.”

Smith said 100 percent of the students in the program last year achieved proficiency in at least one area.


Students enter the program in ninth grade. They must complete a student and parent/guardian contract, and they will be assessed from entry in the program through grade 12. Assessment will include monitoring grade-point average, diagnostic exams for deficiencies, ACT scores and progress toward high school completion.

During fall and spring semesters, students attend Saturday Academy some weeks to work on identified deficiencies and to strengthen motivation to learn and continue to college.

Each summer, after graduation, students will attend Philander Smith or UALR to better prepare for college. Those sessions will be three weeks—that’s the Senior Summer Bridge Academy. Underclassmen will attend four-day sessions each summer.

Completion may lead to a scholarship, and successful college work—a 2.27 grade point average with 27 credits earned a year—will lead to scholarship renewal.

Student-specific learning styles will determine the best approach for each, helping curriculum development which “will blend traditional and contemporary teaching methods, including peer-to-peer, group learning, technology assisted, videos, songs, games and motivation,” Smith said.

Students can graduate from a PCSSD high school with as many as 12 college credits in some circumstances by taking on-line courses and concurrent or enrollment.

The $10 million to fund the program will come from cutting programs, and the state’s desegregation payments for the next three school years, $3.33 million per year.

While largely for the benefit of the black students championed by the Joshua Intervenors, the program will also be available to other low-income students regardless of race.

“We’re going to repurpose some of the (state) desegregation money to create a new focus,” Guess said. “A new direction aimed at achievement and how to serve these students.”

Walker said the new program does not satisfy the requirement for equitable academic achievement, one of the remaining impediments to the district’s achieving unitary status, but that it was a step in that direction.

Guess submitted $1.5 million worth of cuts to the 2014-2015 PCSSD budget, the largest being to Alternative learning education administrator, who earns $105.671 a year.

A home-school consultant will be cut from each of nine elementary schools and home- school counselor from each of three secondary schools. Fourteen certified Saturday teachers will be cut, two high school classified employees and four middle school teachers are among the positions expected to be cut, according to Guess’ proposals.

He said some programs being cut could be absorbed into others.


The proposed budget for the Donaldson Scholars Academy for the 2014-15 school year is $1.8 million, leaving a balance of $1.533 million from the $3.33 million desegregation funding.

The lion’s share of those expenses is $806,250 for scholarships and technology — three-quarters of it for scholarships, the rest for computers.

Another $300,000 is for three-weeks room and board on those two campuses for the Summer Bridge program.

Then $238,000 goes toward salaries and benefits for program coordinators at each college, a counselor, consultant, advisory board, research analyst and administrative assistant.

Although the preliminary funding of $3.33 million a year is for three years, that money is expected to run the program for five years or longer, and Donaldson said they hope for a share of the $75 million President Obama is making available for education of at- risk students and another $20 million for historically black state universities.

The current Donaldson Scholars Academy also receives money from corporations such as the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and the Bank of America.

Among those at the press conference, throwing their prestige and support to the program that lacks only approval by the district judge were Donaldson, Smith, UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson, Dr. Janice Warren, PCSSD’s vice superintendent for equity and pupil services; Dr. Lloyd Hervey, interim president of Philander Smith, and Dr. Logan Hampton, UALR vice provost for student affairs.

Warren said the program is like nothing she’d read about, and that “Failure is not an option. Student achievement is what we’ll experience.”

Hampton called it “an historic opportunity,’ and said he expected “great results from a new population.”

Hervey called it an opportunity for culturally significant education. “We are elated, looking forward to a long partnership.”

Anderson said he had admired Walker for many years and gave credit to Donaldson, Hampton and Smith. “It gives a boost to some children who need a boost,” he said of the Donaldson Scholars Academy. “It’s awfully important that we make education opportunity real for all students at the college level.”