Over the past few years, the Helena-West Helena School District has focused on putting kids first and getting our district back on the right track. In the past few years, we have witnessed great progress in regard to facilities, financial strength and academic achievement.  

During the 2015-2016 school year, the Academy of Excellence was implemented at J.F. Wahl Elementary. This college preparatory program offers a rigorous educational experience designed to ensure elementary students are prepared for enrollment in Pre-AP/AP classes once they enter junior high.

We knew we needed to serve all students and that included providing the experiences being sought by families who want an enhanced college-prep curriculum. We structured a pilot program similar to what KIPP – Delta Public Schools has touted as its bread and butter:  self-selection, enhanced parental involvement, student commitment requirements, project-based learning, and an increased number of field trips.

The significance of these results is that families can expect their children to receive a top quality, college-prep education in Helena, Arkansas. As a parent and a policymaker, I am thrilled with this program. The numbers leave no doubt that the our school district is doing the best job for students and families seeking this type of educational experience.

“The enrollment application makes clear that there is an expectation of a serious commitment on behalf of not only the students, but also the parents,” said Jewel Hamilton, principal of J.F. Wahl Elementary. “Rigorous instruction plus complete parental involvement is a powerful combination.”


On Wednesday, we learned this program works, and we learned that the Helena-West Helena School District Academy achieves better results than competitors from around the state. In some cases, our students exceeded the state and national average.

As a parent of a grandchild enrolled in the academy, the results validated what I believed was happening as the school year progressed. The projects, field trips, and higher expectations pushed my grandson to reach higher.

Other parents and grandparents share my enthusiasm.

“The experience for my granddaughter was great,” said Willie Jackson. “My granddaughter loves learning. She really enjoyed the hands-on nature of the class, but more important, she was really challenged by her teacher in the Academy to develop her critical thinking abilities. That was very important to me and I think she realizes how this will help her realize her dream of becoming a doctor.”

Test scores

Students outperform state & national averages.

In mathematics, students compared well to state and national averages while outscoring students enrolled in schools in our area.

In literacy, students of the academy exceeded the state and national average.

As a policymaker, test score data demonstrates that if a parent wants the best instruction to prepare their child for the advanced placement track at the secondary level, then he or she will get the best results by enrolling their child in the academy.

  • Literacy – Test scores for grades 3-6 showed 84.78% of students scored proficient on the ACT Aspire Exam. The state average was 72.0%.
  • Mathematics – Test scores were slightly below state and national averages.


Academy of Excellence







Academy of Excellence






Press release

Please click an image for a larger view.


This is a phenomenal development. Our staff and leadership are to be applauded for their vision and effort. And our students should be applauded for their hard work.

Let’s put this achievement into perspective. Students in this pilot program either met or exceeded state and national averages. These numbers defied expectations. The results demonstrate that our programming, our work ethic, and our focus on putting kids first is getting the job done.

We are doing a good job in the classroom. We are competing against the best and doing a good job.  We are making great things happen every day in HWHSD!

Like we have said since the appointment of the advisory board, our goal is to be the best. These test results show our school district has taken a huge step forward toward that goal and that we are at that level when compared to our local peers.

One of our parents, April Casey, brought her kids back from KIPP – Delta Public Schools because HWHSD provided a more well-rounded experience.

“Each system has its own unique character,” said Casey. “What my children like about the Helena-West Helena School District is the wider array of extracurricular experiences which gives them a more well-rounded education and helps with their social development.”

We still have work to do.

There are improvements that still need to be made, including within the Academy. But it is a day to celebrate HWHSD. No longer is it just a gut feeling that we bring when we say we offer a stronger curriculum. We have data to back it up.

I am proud to say my children attend HWHSD.  I am confident that they are getting a great education. I don’t hesitate encourage other parents to consider giving us a chance.

Until next time, GO COUGARS!