Friday, May 20, 2016

TOP STORY >> A tearful farewell as NPHS ends run

Leader staff writer

Tears, hugs, more tears, the passing around of a Kleenex box, followed by more tears punctuated an interview with students and teachers about the demise of North Pulaski High School.

As part of the separation of Jacksonville from the Pulaski County Special School District, the high school will be converted to a middle school for next year and this senior class will be the last to graduate. Its graduation is at 4:30 p.m. today at UALR.

Last year, the school began to see its identity change forever. Its football team and award-winning marching band were consolidated with their counterparts, and former rivals, at Jacksonville High Schools.

North Pulaski’s celebrated student-run restaurant Simply Delicious and culinary program will remain though at the campus that will become Jacksonville Middle School in August. High school students will travel across town to use the kitchen until the new high school campus is built downtown.

But what will really be missed is the family atmosphere. Every student and teacher interviewed Wednesday stressed that family concept.

Coach Robbie Walker, a 19-year veteran at the school, walked English teacher Tiffini Shettles-Tull, a 15- year NPHS veteran, down the aisle at her wedding. “We had to approve each other’s spouses,” Walker quipped.


Junior Kara Hutchinson’s mom was in the first graduating class and Hutchinson wanted to be in the last but will miss that honor.

Teachers Linda Parlier and Marlena Roe graduated from the school and then came back to teach.

“Oh, goodness, goodness, goodness, I was here as a student in 1994, but don’t repeat that,” quipped Parlier, who teaches theater stagecraft. She explained that she was like most NPHS students in that the school was a second, and sometimes first, home.

“After graduation, when I would come back to see my family, I’d come here first, dirty laundry and all, to visit the teachers,” she said. “To see those who made my life amazing.”

“All the kids call me mom. I don’t have any kids of my own, but I have hundreds of someone else’s,” Parlier said, reaching for a tissue. “This closing, it hurts.”


“We’ve been here for each other’s marriages, divorces, death, major life events with the faculty and the kids,” she continued. “This place is family. The kids say that. We say that. And like family, we are worried about our kids. They came here together, they will leave together, but they won’t be together anymore. My daughter was raised in these halls. At 18-months she carried the homecoming crown.”

Tull and Tracey Garrison, the school’s instructional facilitator, both started out at NPHS the year that ninth graders were added to the campus. “There were 29 of us that started that year and only three of us are left. Garrison called those first few years the pushcart years, “Because we didn’t have classrooms.”

First year AP English teacher Hanna Jones also felt the love immediately. “Coming here as a new teacher I was really nervous. The only attitude I’d seen in schools was an ‘all-for-yourself’ one, but I quickly gained best friends here and became part of a family. I can’t imagine working anywhere else. It was the best year one could hope for,” Jones said.

“It’s just fun to work here,” Garrison said. “When summer came, we instantly looked forward to coming back. It was exciting to come to work every day.”

Junior Amada Crews, who had lots of family members graduate from the school, called her three years at NPHS “really great. Everyone is so accepting and loving. Teachers here do anything and everything they can for us to be our best.”

Both Crews and classmate Hutchinson worry about the final year of their high school education. Thinking about the school they will be going to, both echoed, “Will they care? Will it be a family atmosphere?”


Trenton Palsa, another junior at the school, sitting next to fellow classmate Valentino Warren, are best friends, but it wasn’t that way when both came to school as freshmen. “Our teacher told us the friends we thought we had wouldn’t be and those who we didn’t know or even liked at the time would become true friends. She was right,” said Palsa.

The junior said the finality of this year hit home when they had senior pictures taken last week. “Instead of us posing in maroon and gold, we were given red robes (for Jacksonville High) or blue robes (for Sylvan Hills High). That’s when it really hit me that our family was separating.”

“It hurts,” said Warren who loved the school’s diversity. “There’s not just one group or clique here. It’s all about equality and being nice and respectful.”

Veteran teacher Roe called the students a “very eclectic group of children. A true blend, all different, yet always very cohesive.” Spoken like a science teacher.

In fact, things are so respectful, as Warren says, at NPHS that the resource officers get bored and substitutes enjoy it so much it’s the only school they want to work at, said Garrison.


North Pulaski opened in 1977 and averaged about 700 to 800 students until this past year when students and staff began an exodus ahead of the school closing. This year the school saw an entire new office staff and only the science department stayed intact.

But even with just a few hundred students this year, it was still the place to be. It was still all about family. “Many of our teachers who left last year ahead of the closing have cried every day, saying the other schools are so different, cold, all business,” explained Tull.

Special education teacher Beth Cranor has been a member of the NPHS family for 16 years. “I never imagined a day where I wouldn’t be working in this building. This is such a family. If you walk in and something is going on in your life you always get support from faculty and the kids. We love them, they love us,” said Cranor, another teacher the students call mom.

Cranor works with students with disabilities and said, “I hope the new people will love them as much as I do.


An April 2011 tornado destroyed the school’s auditorium and damaged other parts of the school forcing most of its students to area community buildings for classes and testing. Repairs to classrooms and the replacement of textbooks and technology took several months. It took more than a year to rebuild the auditorium.

The band has earned the Sweepstakes Award for First Division Ratings in marching, concert and sight-reading for 23 consecutive years, was the 1991 Sweepstakes Winner at Worlds of Fun Music Festival in Kansas City, Mo., a 1994 Best in Class at North American Music Festival in Atlanta, Ga., and has been the Arkansas representative in three National Independence Day Parades in Washington.

The concert and show choir won four Division One ratings for Superior performance and has placed many students in Region and State choirs.

The speech and drama department has continually won sweepstakes awards at statewide tournaments, bringing home nine awards last spring.

In 2012, teacher Karen Dismuke received the Arkansas Bandmaster of the Year award.

North Pulaski is known for its Performing Arts Department offering classes in drama, stagecraft and competitive speaking.


Students working at Simply Delicious, one of the few restaurants run in the state by students, have won awards on an annual basis.

In 2013, North Pulaski won both state-level culinary competitions and represented Arkansas at the National ProStart Invitational competition.

And what about that beleaguered football team?

At the 2007 homecoming game against the Greene County Tech Eagles, the Falcons football team snapped its 32-game losing streak it had since September 2004 beating Greene County 56-6. North Pulaski also had a homecoming game victory in 2014 against J.A. Fair, and in between, well, there was the award-winning band at halftime.

Former North Pulaski football player Myles Bush said “It’s been rough at times because we haven’t won as many games as we wanted to, but it sure was fun playing,”

The wrestling and basketball teams were state runners-up in 2008-09, and the cross country team was conference champions last year.

Falcons — going, going, gone.

(Editor’s note: The bold subheads throughout the story are a quote by Barbara Bush.)