March 14 will go down as a momentous and historic day in the Helena-West Helena School District. Our community has decided to take a huge step forward in enhancing our public school system, which is going to be a huge boost for our children and this community. When all of this is done, it is my hope that our schools will be a source of pride for our residents and a unifying force in our community.
The theme of our campaign was Great Schools = Great Communities. I believe that wholeheartedly. However, all of us know how hard fought the campaign became and the divisions among us that it either exposed or created. As we begin to build buildings, it is my hope and my prayer that we also build bridges in our community.
I want to begin by speaking to those that opposed us in this campaign. It is obvious that many found it difficult to trust the district based on past experience. We have urged you to not live in that past and to give us a chance to move this district forward because this is a new day in the Helena-West Helena School District. Mr. Hoy and the members of this Board are committed to this project being completed honestly and in a way that will make you proud. With that in mind, we have formally appointed Mr. Meryl Lewis, the founder of the Lewis-Elliott architectural firm in Little Rock, as the architect for this project. Also, we have selected Baldwin & Shell as the construction managers for the work. These firms led our work on the new Eliza Miller Elementary Building at the J. F. Wahl Elementary campus. Both had the approval from the commissioner of education as well as the advisory board to complete that project, which is ahead of schedule and within budget.
Let me say a little about Mr. Lewis. He is an architect with over 50 years experience in public school construction. He worked with former superintendents J. F. Wahl and Harold Chorley on buildings within the school district. He is widely respected statewide and has been described by many to be one of the most ethical individuals working in the business today. He has worked tirelessly for this district and has done an excellent job. He will make sure that everything is completed to the highest ethical standards.
Baldwin & Shell is one of the state’s leading construction management firms and has a positive reputation statewide as one of the top firms for public school construction. Our experience with them on the current project has been nothing but positive. They will handle all of the bidding and the awarding of contracts on this project in conjunction with the architect. This means the entire process will be insulated from any improper political influence. Baldwin & Shell and Mr. Lewis will insure that those who bid on the contracts are reputable and qualified to do the work and will award the contracts accordingly. The school board will not have a role in that part of the project since it has hired Baldwin & Shell to manage the construction. This should give those in the community who are hesitant to trust the district added comfort that we are handling things in a way to build public confidence that this is being done right.
It is my hope that those opposed to us will recognize the steps that are being taken to insure high quality work done in an ethical manner and support HWHSD as we move forward.
Now I would like to turn to those that supported this effort. First, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your affirmation of our kids and our district. This election was always about the children and the future of this community. We have prevailed for our kids and we are about to do something great for them and this community.
Now is not the time for a victory lap. We have work to do, and we must do our part to reach across the aisle and bring those opposed to us into the fold as supporters of HWHSD and as fans of the Cougars. There were things said during the campaign that were regrettable. They were hurtful. They were wrong. Some of those things were said about our students, staff, my fellow board members, the administration, and me.
Just as we have urged those that fought us to forgive the district for any sins in its past, we must forgive as well. We must move forward. We must look to the future just as we are asking those on the other side to do. It isn’t easy. I know that first hand. I have hurt right alongside many of you. But a victory lap in front of those that lost does not advance us toward the goal of a great school and a great community. For us to get there, our community must heal.
So while there were things that would justify continued anger, I want to urge those of us who supported this and who have been hurt by the rhetoric of this campaign to remember these words from Matthew 18:22. “The Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times but seventy times seven times.”
Our community has been plagued by fighting for far too long. If we are to be the great community we can be and if we are to be the great school I know we can be, the fighting must end. That requires forgiveness and healing. I know healing can come. It won’t be easy. But we must work toward building bridges with each other as we build these buildings so that great things can continue to happen every day in HWHSD and Helena-West Helena can be the great community we all yearn to have.