Wednesday, February 18, 2015

EDITORIAL >> New district will rebuild

The Jacksonville School District, which is working toward a complete separation from the Pulaski County Special School District, is floating several new ideas that will improve schools. Plans include closing at least one old school in the new district — some of the buildings are 50 years or older — and consolidating two high schools into a new campus near the air base.

According to a proposal announced last week, Jacksonville Middle School will close at the end of the school year and students will transfer for one year to Northwood Middle School, which is about five miles west of town. They will then transfer to North Pulaski High School, which will become the new middle school. North Pulaski is 36 years old, making it one of the newest structures in Jacksonville. Most of the other schools are ancient and rundown, which is one reason Jacksonville split from PCSSD.

Jacksonville High School was at the middle school half a century ago, but the campus soon became outdated. It looks more like a reformatory than a school. It’s not a friendly place for learning. The county district let schools crumble in Jacksonville while new campuses went up in Maumelle, Sherwood and Little Rock.

Because Jacksonville schools were neglected for decades, academic achievement has fallen. But there is good news: Jacksonville High School is no longer on the state’s watch list of failing schools. (The state is discussing whether Cabot’s Alternative Learning Academy and Beebe’s Badger Academy should return to the list of academically distressed schools.)

Interim Superintendent Bobby Lester understands the new district needs a complete overhaul and probably a millage increase. A combined new high school campus is planned on the outskirts of Little Rock Air Force Base, which will have easy access to the high school and the new middle school.

There’s also a Lighthouse charter middle school on the air base. A couple of miles away, the Lighthouse elementary and high schools continue to grow. They’re good examples of what modern campuses should look like: Bright, cheery places that encourage academic achievement, instead of dreary places that discourage learning.