Leader Blues

Saturday, November 03, 2007

TOP STORY >>Bayou Meto does well on tests

IN SHORT: Parents, teachers and administration work to make school excel in county district.

By ALIYA FELDMAN
Leader staff writer

Even as Pulaski County Special School District has seen a steady decline in test scores among its total student body the last two years, Bayou Meto Elementary’s have accelerated.

“The staff is very committed and has strong expectations,” Principal Karen Sullards said, noting the “strong community support” the school enjoys. It’s tucked away on an isolated stretch of Highway 107 in one of the last rural refuges Jacksonville has left to offer.

Student testing this spring showed Bayou Meto ahead of the district’s overall scores. In math, 76 percent of fifth-graders, 79 percent of fourth-graders and 86 percent of third-graders scored at or above proficiency. In English, 75 percent of fifth-graders, 74 percent of fourth-graders and 75 percent of third-graders scored at or above proficiency on the Arkansas Comprehensive Testing, Assessment and Accountability Program (ACTAAP) exams.

Test scores are not the only benchmarks in which Bayou Meto has accelerated. “It is the last community school in the district,” said Bill Smith, a fifth-grade teacher who has taught at Bayou Meto for 13 years.

Children who live in the surrounding neighborhood mostly attend the school.

Bayou Meto is exempt from federal desegregation requirements that the Pulaski County Special School District is under. Students are not bused in from other parts of the district to meet desegregation requirements because it is in an isolated part of the county, according to Sullards.

All of the children in the school live in the attendance zone, Sullards said.

“You have a lot of poor whites and they want their kids to do better than they have done,” Smith explained. “They tell you that all the time.”

Smith said he talks to 50 to 60 parents a week. He said most of them are noticeably involved at the school. “All the parents are always welcomed there,” he said.

Parents are required by the state to meet twice a year with their children’s teachers. Smith said at the most recent conferences, 22 parents of his 26 students were at the conferences. He said he held the conferences for the other children over the phone.

During an honors assembly, he said typically 150 parents will arrive at the school to support their children. Smith said that during graduation, cars have to park on Hwy. 107 because the school’s parking lot becomes full. Smith credits the relationships between parents, teachers and administration that he said exists at Bayou Meto.

Sullards, who has spent 35 years in education, said in the three years she has been principal at Bayou Meto, she has implemented professional learning communities, when teachers can plan their classes together and discuss teaching methods and their students.

Smith said the school’s Parent Teacher Association is heavily involved in the school.

Public funding alone is not adequate. The PTA held a fundraiser last week to raise money to buy new technology for the school.

“The reason everything is working is because people want it to work,” Smith said.