Leader Blues

Monday, July 27, 2009

Base students lead district

This year’s benchmark and SAT-10 test scores continue to show what Jacksonville and Little Rock Air Force Base have known for years — Arnold Drive Elementary School gives more to the Pulaski County Special School District than the district gives to the school.

Arnold Drive scores were about 15 points higher across the board than the district average. Arnold Drive third-graders were 97 percent proficient or advanced in math and 91 percent proficient or better in literacy, tops in the district. The fourth-graders, with scores of 94 percent in math and 97 percent in literacy, were also tops in the district and the fifth-graders scoring 91 percent proficient in math and 86 percent in literacy were among the top.

With students working that hard, and their teachers working hard as well in a dilapidated building that the Air Force asked the district to replace more than 20 years ago, it’s a salute to the students, the teachers and their parents.

It’s a team effort wherever students do well, but at PCSSD, it’s a special challenge where conditions are far from satisfactory. Former Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim, who had been in office for more than 22 years, has said, “Every wing commander since I’ve been mayor has asked (for a new school).”

Imagine what the teachers and students could do in a decent building. They could rank in the top 99 percent in the nation.
No wonder Lisa Otey, wife of Col. Gregory Otey, the base commander, is concerned about conditions in the district. She expressed her views in a letter to the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and to the school district complaining that PCSSD isn’t doing its part.

In 2007, Brig. Gen Kip Self, then base commander, along with Rep. Vic Snyder and U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, toured the school. Snyder said at the time the facility was “a very substandard school building that was built years ago only to be temporary. At any given time, 25 percent of these kids have parents assigned overseas in Iraq or Afghanistan. We owe these parents and kids a better facility.”

The president of the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council, Carmie Henry, went even further, saying the building was 50 years old, leaked like a sieve, was too small and in a bad location.

Despite all this, Arnold Drive children solidly and repeatedly outperform nearly the rest of the district. Shouldn’t they reap some reward?

Now Mrs. Otey has taken up the battle. She’s a military wife and a military mother who clearly understands the needs of military children.

“Our children deserve better,” Mrs. Otey said in her letter to the Jacksonville chamber. “Our military children deserve the best this state has to offer.”

She and her husband have urged the district to build a new school for the air base. How can the county district ignore her pleas?

The school board also needs to remember the base’s annual economic impact in central Arkansas totals more than $500 million, and the district itself receives $250,000 in federal impact aid each year to educate the base’s children.

Perhaps it will take a new north Pulaski County district before new schools are built. For the children whose parents sacrifice so much during their long service to our nation, they deserve better than rundown schools and leaky roofs.

Thank you, Col. Otey and Mrs. Otey for all you do for the children of military members and for the entire community. Congratulations also on the great test scores. Imagine how much they would improve with modern facilities and some positive district support.