Leader Blues

Friday, August 28, 2009

TOP STORY >> PCSSD agrees to fix elementary school

By GARRICK FELDMAN
Leader editor and publisher

“No kids should go to school in these type of conditions,” said Tim Clark, president of the Pulaski County Special School District Board, as he toured Jacksonville Elementary School on Friday morning with principal Sonia Whitfield, Mayor Gary
Fletcher and Jim Durham, the mayor’s executive assistant.

The school board president wanted to check out the distressed conditions at the 44-year-old school.

As he arrived at the campus on Oak Street, Clark could see the falling canopy that covers the walkway in front of the school.

Clark called interim Superintendent Rob McGill, who had taught at Jacksonville Elementary School, to see the problems for himself: Shower curtains and bed sheets separating classrooms, dangerous electrical outlets and protruding objects sticking out of floors, where youngsters could easily trip.

McGill arrived for his inspection Friday afternoon. “We have some electrical problems taken care of,” he said. “We are working on it to come up with a plan to fix the other issues.”

He said he would order work on the floors and baseboards and on the bathrooms.

“I appreciate the fact that they are concerned with our schools,” Fletcher said.

“I apologize that you had to have a board member come out to get help,” Clark told the principal.

“We’ve got to make sure our kids are taken care of,” he said.

Clark was upset at the appalling conditions at the school. “Is this the worst school in Jacksonville?” he asked.

“The middle school is much worse,” Durham told him.

Clark promised he would get a crew over to the school and fix some of the most egregious problems there — broken floor tiles with asbestos underneath, rotting walls and floors, poor lighting, chipped concrete steps, rusted-out fixtures, filthy bathrooms and a long list of other problems.

The cafeteria had broken tiles that were glazed over to cover up the asbestos in them. The school district has allocated more than $400,000 in federal stimulus money to make improvements at the school — most of it for bathroom renovation — but those funds would fall far short of paying for the necessary repairs.

Clark was shaking his head as he toured the buildings on the campus. He seemed both angry and embarrassed, knowing how much better the schools were in Maumelle, the area he represents on the school board.

Jacksonville Elementary School, by contrast, was more like an inner-city school, where the students and staff find themselves working and studying in surroundings that are less than ideal.

They are, in fact, less than conducive to learning.

“Since Bobby Lester left as superintendent, we haven’t gotten a fair shake in Jacksonville,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher is leading the drive to separate the Jacksonville area from PCSSD.

Whitfield led the visitors down hallways and into classrooms, where teachers did their best under the circumstances. She said the school’s population is down to 471 this year, having lost 70 pupils.

Whitfield said many of those missing students have enrolled in the new Lighthouse Academy, a charter school that is having temporary classes at Second Baptist Church and will soon move into a new building on North First Street near the school.

Fletcher said he wants to see new schools built when Jacksonville gets its own district.