Report outlines HPSD progress

HOPE – Hope Public School District Superintendent Bobby Hart said Thursday night in the annual Report to the Public that the HPSD is moving beyond academic difficulties and embracing a renewed strategic vision that will enhance the progress already made for the district’s 2,000-plus students.

“We started Monday night, the board and myself, reformatting our strategic plan,” Hart said.

He said the district has moved past the initial response to the designation of Hope High School as “academically distressed” and Beryl Henry Elementary as a “focus” school by the state; and, the progress is emerging this school year.

The HPSD Board identified eight areas of focus for its redefined strategic approach Monday night, Hart said, including personnel/staffing, discipline, community involvement, communications, finance, parental involvement, and facilities.

“We are starting to identify action steps for these,” Hart said.

He said enrollment districtwide is down about 80 students, largely from an increase in “home schooled” students.

“I think the academic distress at Hope High School has hurt some; but, we do know that we had a 40-50 percent higher rate of home schooled students,” Hart said.

Current enrollment at the first reporting period is 2,348 students, including 993 at Clinton Primary School, 274 at Beryl Henry Elementary School, 152 at Hope Academy of Public Service, 270 at Yerger Middle School, and 659 at Hope High School.

He said initial data from interim assessment standardized testing conducted this week is showing signs of improvement for the district.

Changes in curriculum have helped to improve math scores as the HPSD moves away from Common Core standards toward implementation of new Arkansas State Standards which must be fully in place in 2017-2018.

The report makes particular note of academic changes at Beryl Henry Elementary School in math and language skills that will be closely monitored throughout the year.

At HHS, Hart said the report reflects an initiative to increase college readiness among high school students.

He noted that HHS currently has 55 students enrolled in 180 concurrent credit classes at the University of Arkansas-Hope, and nine students are enrolled in aviation mechanics certification through Southern Arkansas University Tech classes in Texarkana.

Student to teacher classroom ratios throughout the district remain about 20 to one, Hart said, which is typical.

He said data from the latest ACT Aspire assessment demonstrate a spike across grade levels from fifth to sixth grade, both locally and statewide.

Hart said the district is also working to improve and expand auxiliary services such as more wellness education in the classroom setting, where direct student services have typically required as much as 80 percent of staff time at a given campus.

He said a key factor in the progress within the district has been the ability to embrace the Response to Intervention concept which uses tiers of focused instruction to remediate academic skills.

“We have trained our teachers on RTI, and tested them over it; and, if they didn’t get it the first time, they went back, again,” Hart said.

He said the district’s finances remain strong, with about $186 million in assessed property values within the district this year, compared with some $184 million in 2015.

“Our debt to income ratio is well within the limits for a district of our size,” Hart said.

The district currently shows some $21.6 million in outstanding bonded debt and lease-purchase agreement debt, as reported by Stephens, Inc., of Little Rock, the district’s financial advisor.

Hart said tax collection rates for the district have remained at 98 percent or greater, and the 2016-2017 budget projects an ending balance of some $3.8 million, based upon budgeting at 88 percent of anticipated revenue.

He said the district has undertaken several public initiatives this year, including the development of the HAPS campus, a grades 5-8 open-enrollment “school of innovation” which opened in August on the Augustus Garland campus; the “Strive for Five” attendance initiative to improve student attendance; the “Book of the Month” literacy initiative; the Lil’ Cat Reading Club volunteer reading initiative; improved parent-teacher conferences; and, the development of a districtwide communications office.