Texarkana, Ark., School District's board approved a grade-level reconfiguration during its regular meeting Tuesday.
The district will ask the Arkansas Department of Education to move fifth grade back to elementary schools, with sixth, seventh and eight grades moving to the middle school the district plans to build.
TASD Superintendent Dr. Becky Kesler said school officials are ready to move forward with the reconfiguration and construction of the new middle school.
"We've taken a team of teachers and administrators to visit several schools in Arkansas, (and) the architect has been down here several times looking at our options, so we really feel like we're ready to move forward," she said. "The end goal is to have a K-5 elementary, a middle school and a high school. We started realizing that trying to build a new building, transitioning fifth grade to the elementary, consolidating elementary, moving seventh and eighth grade to the new school, getting rid of portables and establishing classrooms at the elementary was really not a realistic goal in a year's time."
The board approved a plan that includes two phases, with the first beginning in the 2018-19 school year—establishing K-5 schools, setting up a sixth-grade academy at College Hill Middle School and starting construction on the new middle school.
The second phase will begin the next year and includes completion of the new middle school and moving students from North Heights Junior High and the sixth-grade academy moving to the new campus. Union and College Hill elementary schools would merge into the College Hill Elementary building, and all portable buildings would be removed.
Funds for the new construction include $6 million in state partnership funds and $20 million from a voter-approved bond resolution passed in November 2017.
In other business, the board heard a report on the Every Minute Matters initiative, designed to address the importance of student attendance all day, every day.
"Not only do we want our students to come to school every day, we want them to come on time and stay at school once they're there," district spokeswoman Genia Bullock said. "Their being late or checking out early is a disruption to instruction in the classroom."
TASD began the initiative in February, with leaders holding assemblies at schools and showing students a video on how good attendance affects student success.
"Principals continue to display that message throughout campus and in newsletters and daily announcements," she said.
Board Member Jesse Buchanan asked if they were addressing attendance at the parent level, especially with elementary students.
"It's not the child's fault they're late. It's parents getting them to school late," he said. Bullock told him they have an attendance call out, and principals have conversations with parents on an individual basis.
Terry Taylor, principal of Washington Academy Charter School, spoke on how they addressed the issue:
"We changed from thinking about the negative part of it to reward those who are on time, and then that would encourage those that were not."
The board also voted to renew the Leader in Me program, Franklin Covey's whole-school transformation process that teaches 21st-century leadership and life skills to students and creates a culture of student empowerment based on the idea that every child can be leader.
The program is in place at College Hill Elementary and Middle schols, North Heights Junior High and Kilpatrick, Union, Trice and Fairview elementary schools. Cost for the program is $85,550.10, funded through the schools' Title 1 budgets.
"I think it is a really good program, and if we can get students to take ownership of their own life, it would help them," Board Member Glen Spears said.
The board also approved technology purchases for several campuses:
The board also held a first reading on a personnel policy as mandated by the Arkansas School Board Association. It contains updates to clearly delineate what constitutes sexual harassment and what district responsibilities are. It will be brought to the board next month for final approval.
The next board meeting is scheduled April 17.