Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Arkadelphia named 'City of Distinction' by Arkansas Business Magazine

Arkansas Business magazine has named Arkadelphia as a 2011 City of Distinction for the development and implementation of the Southwest Arkansas College Preparatory Academy.  The Academy recently began its fourth year with 184 students from Clark County high schools. The Saturday and summer classes are held on the campuses of Henderson State University and Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia.

"The Academy is just one example of the innovative partnerships that are making a difference in our schools and community," said Arkadelphia Superintendent Donnie Whitten.  "We would like to thank everyone involved in its development and implementation - especially our private funders and university partners at Henderson and Ouachita.  We appreciate the recognition from Arkansas Business and look forward to strengthening the educational and economic vision for Clark County."

For more information on Arkadelphia's City of Distinction award, please visit the Arkansas Business online article or view the full e-issue here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Historic Peake High School Restoration

— Work is under way inside the old Peake School building as part of a year-long effort to restore the building to its original appearance when it was Arkadelphia’s only school for African-Americans.

“We have completed the work on the outside of the building except for some landscaping and handicap-access features,” said Pat Wright of the Arkadelphia Public School System, who remembers taking a class in the old school as an elementary student. 

“The contract for Phase II of the restoration was done in July, and work began in August inside.”  Wright, the director of special programs for the school district, said the work is now concentrating on the common areas of the old school. That work should be finished in November; then work will begin to restore the original classrooms, she said.

The Peake School has a history that goes back to 1928, when it was built using a grant from the trust of Julius Rosenwald, the chairman of Sears, Roebuck and Co., that provided money and plans to build schools in African-American communities in rural areas. The school was known as the Peake Rosenwald School and provided classes for the first through eighth grades.

The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005 as an example of one of the 5,000 schools built in the U.S. by the Rosenwald trust from 1917 until 1932 for the education of African-Americans, according to materials from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program in Little Rock. Now, few of the schools remain.

When a new high school was built in 1960, the name of the Peake School was changed to Peake Elementary School for grades one through six.  When Arkadelphia schools were totally integrated in 1970, it became Peake Middle School. By 1984, the original Peake School building was used by the Head Start program, but the building had been vacant since December 2001.

“Since then, there has been nothing going on in there until the present,” Wright said.  Work started last year with repairs to the roof of the building. A second project water-proofed the basement, Wright said.

The work is being done under the direction of Twin Rivers Architects in Arkadelphia. Wright said the funding for the first phase of restoration was from the Arkansas Preservation Program, and the inside phase is being funded by $400,000 in federal stimulus funds given to the program by the school district.  Wright said plans for the building are for it to return to its role of education.

“We hope it will become part of our early childhood program, and the classrooms will be for 3-yearolds,” she said. “There is a waiting list for that program, and the list is longest for age 3.”
Additional plans call for a small museum in the building and an office for the Peake School Alumni Association.

Former students of the Peake schools held a reunion early in August in Arkadelphia. Wright, who is president of the alumni association for the schools, said the group is now looking for donations of memorabilia, such as school jackets and photographs of classes and teachers.

“The alumni want to see this done and finished,” Wright said. “This is important for the legacy of thecommunity. [The Peake building] is on the campus of [what is now Peake Elementary School], and we want those students and all students to understand about the school.”

She said once the building is restored and the museum is ready, alumni will look for ways to link Arkadelphia students with the old schools through their grandparents or other relatives.

by Wayne Bryan
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Tri-Lakes

Prep Academy begins fourth year with 184 students

Henderson State University and Ouachita Baptist University will host 184 high school students from local school districts as the fourth year of an innovative educational opportunity in Clark County begins. The Southwest Arkansas College Preparatory Academy is scheduled to resume classes on October 15th.

The program was designed as part of the High School Redesign Initiative of the Southwest-A Education Renewal Zone at HSU and the Arkansas Department of Education. Leaders from Arkadelphia Public Schools, Henderson State University, Ouachita Baptist University, College of the Ouachitas, Dawson Educational Cooperative, Southern Bancorp, Ross Foundation, Clark County Strategic Plan, local business and community representatives and elected officials participated in the development of the Academy in 2009. The project was expanded to include the Centerpoint and Gurdon School Districts for the Academy’s second year with the Cabe Foundation and Olds Foundation joining the partnership.

The purpose of the Academy is to provide additional academic opportunities for students to ensure that they are ready for postsecondary studies upon completion of high school. Students were selected based on their interest in attending a four-year postsecondary institution and an application process. Information from the EXPLORE test administered in the eighth grade will be used to help students prepare for the ACT they will take as juniors.

“Our ongoing commitment to this project has been a true collaborative effort and we are grateful to all of our partners. With the success of the first three classes, we are pleased to continue the program with other area districts in Clark County. We are fortunate to have the support of our community and universities,” said Donnie Whitten, superintendent of the Arkadelphia School District.

The Academy will focus on the areas of reading, English, mathematics, and career planning. The program will pair a public school teacher with university professors from HSU and OBU, resulting in a faculty-student ratio of 1:6. The Academy will hold classes on selected Saturdays from October through May and two weeks in June. Activities will take place at Henderson and Ouachita with plans to expose students to additional university experiences through field trips and off-campus activities. Funded by local school districts and grants from private foundations, all classes and activities will be offered at no cost to the students.

Bobby Jones, interim president of Henderson State University, said “The Southwest Arkansas College Preparatory Academy is one of the most progressive and innovative P-12/higher education collaborative projects in the entire state of Arkansas, and I am excited about this new class of Academy students. This Academy is having a tremendous impact on our schools, our students, and our communities. The partnerships between our universities, our public schools, other educational entities, and our private supporters are a model for the power of collaboration.”

“We are so proud of these students and the commitment they have made. We look forward to the return of our current students and to meeting our ninth graders on October 11. Our faculty and staff are planning many exciting activities preparing for their return,” said Paulette Blacknall, director of the Southwest-A Education Renewal Zone at Henderson State University.

The opening celebration for the Southwest Arkansas College Preparatory Academy will be held on Tuesday, October 11 at 6:00 p.m. in the Garrison Center Lecture Hall. State Representative Johnnie J. Roebuck is scheduled to address the audience and provide the “charge” to this year’s students.    For more information on the Academy, please contact Paulette Blacknall at 870-230-5476.

The Southwest Arkansas College Preparatory Academy and Arkadelphia’s efforts to improve its college-going rate will be highlighted in an upcoming October issue of Arkansas Business Magazine as a 2011 “City of Distinction” program award winner.