It is hard to believe that the fall semester concluded this week. Time seems to fly by a little faster each passing year.  It has been an outstanding year for the Helena-West Helena School District, and it has been a privilege for me to have been a part of the great things that are happening every day in HWHSD.  As 2018 dawns, the future of the district is brighter than ever as academic achievement is improving, finances are stable, leadership is strong, and state-of-the-art facilities for our students are on the way.

Let’s take a look back at some of the highlights of the last twelve months. On the academic front, test scores continued to improve overall across the district.  The school board received data at the annual public meeting that continued to show positive trend lines on the state mandated exams.  At the elementary level, the district received statewide accolades for the performance in its Academy of Excellence Program.  Those students outscored all of the surrounding public and charter schools in literacy and math and outscored the state and national averages on the literacy exams.  That work has been highlighted by media all around the state.  Other districts have been coming to see what we are doing in those programs so that they can emulate our efforts in their districts.  Seeing HWHSD be a trendsetter and the example others wanted to follow on academic programming was a particularly rewarding and gratifying moment for us all.  Words cannot express how proud we are of those students and the staff who worked with them, and we are excited to see the results from the program’s second year in 2018.

At Central High School, the recent news that 100% of the Class of 2018 had been accepted into at least one two or four-year college or university has turned heads around the state.  This is milestone that this entire community should celebrate.  Part of fulfilling our mission to make sure that we graduate students who are fully prepared for life as responsible, productive and caring citizens is making sure they have the skills to attend college if they choose that path after high school.  This news shows that we are getting that done, and we are so proud of these students.  Our entire staff should be commended for working with this group throughout their time at Central High School and playing a role in this achievement.  This work has also brought the district accolades and positive media coverage throughout the state and region, including last week on the ABC affiliate in Memphis.

No recap of the past year would be complete without a review of the district’s progress improving its facilities.  In August, we opened the new Eliza Miller Building on the J. F. Wahl Elementary campus.  This building, which will house our youngest students and provide a top-notch physical education facility for the over 700 students in Pre-K through 6th grades, was the first academic building constructed in the district since the original Wahl Elementary building was built in 1972 and the only building of any kind built in the district since the Central High School Gymnasium in 1981.  It was an exciting moment that served as a metaphor for the progress of the district.  As the building rose up from the ground, the district rose up after many had left it for dead.  Its completion left us a beacon of hope about the future of the Helena-West Helena School District.  

The completion of this building came on the heels of community approval of the first millage increase in approximately three decades to fund construction of a new high school facility and renovated athletic facilities at Central High School. Approval of that millage signified the increasing confidence that the community has in the school district and its leadership.  Work on that project has begun with the demolition of the dilapidated and outdated facilities down the hill that most recently housed junior high students.  When work on this project is completed and the new high school facility opens in August 2019, our students will go from having some of the worst facilities in the entire state to having some of the best in the region.  I can’t wait to see the modern science labs, top-notch auditorium for our fine arts programming, and athletic facilities we can be proud to showcase for the many visitors who will come to our campus and community for those games.  I can’t wait to see the pride our students will have when they finally have a school that is comparable to what they have seen in other districts for years.

Finally, 2017 closes with the district’s leadership in a more stable and respectable position than at any other time in the past two generations.  Our school board has been recognized for its strong leadership locally stabilizing the district and for its participation in the development of many state policies.  We have our entire slate of officers certified as Master Board Members by the Arkansas School Board Association for the first time.  Our Superintendent has been recognized statewide and is respected by many of the professional organizations working on education policy in the state, many of which have named him to important boards and committees.  Mr. Hoy has a seat at the table and is playing a pivotal role in changing the culture of our district and making it a highly respected district around the state.  After a period of having 16 Superintendents in 23 years, Mr. Hoy is under contract to be here through June 30, 2021 and is currently in his fourth year as superintendent.  In short, the leadership of the district has the strength and stability that was missing through some of its weakest time.  We are headed in the right direction, and the future is bright.

Next year will only bring more success in Cougar Country! On behalf of HWHSD, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  

Until next time, GO COUGARS!