Education took center stage at Thursday night's 77th annual Chamber of Commerce Banquet. Arkansas Commissioner of Education Tom Kimbrell was the keynote speaker for the event and presented somewhat of an eye-opening report on the status of education in Phillips County's public schools.
Education took center stage at Thursday night's 77th annual Chamber of Commerce Banquet. Arkansas Commissioner of Education Tom Kimbrell was the keynote speaker for the event and presented somewhat of an eye-opening report on the status of education in Phillips County's public schools. Kimbrell stressed the importance of communities becoming involved, or a partner in education. “Educating our children is serious business,” stated Kimbrell. “There's a lot of hard work ahead of us. But we (the state Department of Education) can't do it alone.” According to Kimbrell, community engagement must return to public education – something that has been missing in Helena-West Helena in the recent past. “It's tough to look in the mirror and realize the brutal truth that there are some serious problems,” stated Kimbrell. Kimbrell noted that the Helena-West Helena is in the second year of a five-year state take over. The district is in the midst of a second state takeover. Kimbrell praised the efforts of District CEO Suzann McCommon and Chief Fiscal Officer Ulicious Reed for their efforts in helping the district rebound. Statewide, Kimbrell said the Department of Education is working with the Legislature to expand the ADE's takeover authority. “There are more and more districts needing our help,” said Kimbrell. “I proud of the efforts of the teachers in this county and state to turn things around. They now believe we are there to help.” According to Kimbrell, all of the public schools in Phillips County have struggles. They have challenges they have been unable to meet and goals that have been unable to attain. Kimbrell noted such problems a declining population of students and financial resources as well as facility needs and in some instances, low achievement test scores. Some schools did not meet their goals in the areas of literacy and math skills. “They all need community support,” he added. While optimistic about some achievements of Phillips County schools, Kimbrell did issue a warning. “Improving literacy and math skills can and will be achieved,” he said. “Innovation is essential in improving student achievement. We must change our thinking and come up with a unique means of achieving those goals.” Kimbrell stressed that the ADE will take “more dramatic action” if improvement doesn't come at a more rapid pace. “We have a responsibility that every child in Phillips County has access to a quality education,” stated Kimbrell. “The future of businesses here in Phillips County depends on what comes out of its schools. Education is the key to improving the lives of our children and our state.” Doug Hollowell, owner of Hoffinger Industries, spearheaded an effort to get local businesses involved in public education. Several businesses committed to adopting a particular Phillips County School. Hollowell committed Hoffinger to adopt Central High School while Southern Bancorp and Helena Regional Medical Center opted to adopt the elementary and middle schools, respectively. Other businesses and individuals also stated they would help in any way they could. “This is kinda like a revival,” stated Hollowell.