Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Arkadelphia Public Schools placed on AP Honor Roll

Arkadelphia Public Schools Placed on the College Board’s 3rd Annual AP District Honor Roll for Significant Gains in Advanced Placement Access and Student Performance

Record 539 Districts Honored

Arkadelphia Public Schools is one of 539 school districts from 44 states in the U.S. and 6 Canadian provinces being honored by the College Board with placement on the 3rd Annual AP District Honor Roll for simultaneously increasing access to Advanced Placement course work while increasing the percentage of students earning scores of 3 or higher on AP Exams. Achieving both of these goals is the ideal scenario for a district’s AP program because it indicates that the district is successfully identifying motivated, academically prepared students who are likely to benefit most from rigorous AP course work. Since 2010, Arkadelphia Public Schools has increased the number of students participating in AP classes by 37 percent while improving the percentage of students earning AP Exam scores of 3 or higher by six percent. More than 90 percent of colleges and universities across the U.S. offer college credit, advanced placement or both for a score of 3 or above on an AP Exam — which can potentially save students and their families thousands of dollars in college tuition.

Arkadelphia Public Schools is one of six districts in Arkansas to make the AP District Honor Roll and Superintendent Donnie Whitten attributed much of the success of the Arkadelphia AP program to the district’s participation in the Arkansas Advanced Initiative for Math and Science (AAIMS), which provides teacher training and incentives for students and teachers to participate in AP courses.

“Our AP program is the center of a lot of excitement in our district,” Whitten said. “AP coupled with AAIMS produced significant increases in the number of students taking, and passing, AP exams. We want to provide the most challenging curriculum for all of our students, and make way for as many opportunities as possible for our students and staff to better their educational experience. As a district, we will continue raising the bar for academic rigor and I expect our students and staff to continue answering the call.”

“We applaud the extraordinary efforts of the devoted teachers and administrators in the Arkadelphia Public Schools, who are fostering rigorous work worth doing. These educators have not only expanded student access to AP course work, but they have enabled more of their students to achieve on a college level—which is helping to create a strong college-going culture,” College Board President, David Coleman, said.

Helping more students learn at a higher level and earn higher AP scores is an objective of all members of the AP community, from AP teachers to district and school administrators to college professors. Many districts are experimenting with a variety of initiatives and strategies to determine how to expand access and improve student performance simultaneously.

“There has been a great victory among educators who have believed that a more diverse population could indeed succeed in AP courses. In 2012, AP scores were higher than they’d been since 2004, when one million fewer students were being given access. These outcomes are a powerful testament to educators’ belief that many more students were indeed ready and waiting for the sort of rigor that would prepare them for what they would encounter in college,” Trevor Packer, the College Board’s senior vice president of the Advanced Placement Program, said. “While we recognize that there is still much work to be done to prepare students for college, I find myself inspired daily by what they are achieving.”

Inclusion on the 3rd Annual AP District Honor Roll is based on the examination of three years of AP data, from 2010 to 2012, for the following criteria:

Districts must:

  • Increase participation/access to AP by at least 4 percent in large districts, at least 6 percent in medium districts and at least 11 percent in small districts;
  • Ensure that the percentage of African American, Hispanic/Latino and American Indian/Alaska Native students taking AP Exams did not decrease by more than 5 percent for large and medium districts or by more than 10 percent for small districts;
  • Improve performance levels when comparing the percentage of students in 2012 scoring a 3 or higher to those in 2010, unless the district has already attained a performance level in which more than 70 percent of the AP students are scoring a 3 or higher.

When these outcomes have been achieved among an AP student population made up of 30 percent or more underrepresented minority students (Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian/Alaska Native) and/or 30 percent or more low-income students (students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch), a symbol has been affixed to the district name to highlight this work.

The complete 3rd Annual AP District Honor Roll can be found here.

About the Advanced Placement Program
The College Board’s AP Program enables willing and academically prepared students to pursue college-level studies — with the opportunity to earn college credit, advanced placement or both — while still in high school. Through AP courses in 34 subjects, each culminating in a rigorous exam, students learn to think critically, construct solid arguments and see many sides of an issue — skills that prepare them for college and beyond. Taking AP courses demonstrates to college admission officers that students have sought the most rigorous curriculum available to them, and research indicates that students who score a 3 or higher on an AP Exam typically experience greater academic success in college and are more likely to earn a college degree than non-AP students. Each AP teacher’s syllabus is evaluated and approved by faculty from some of the nation’s leading colleges and universities, and AP Exams are developed and scored by college faculty and experienced AP teachers. Most four-year colleges and universities in the United States grant credit, advanced placement or both on the basis of successful AP Exam scores — more than 3,600 institutions worldwide annually receive AP scores. In the last decade, participation in the AP Program has more than doubled and graduates succeeding on AP Exams have nearly doubled. In May 2012, 2.1 million students representing more than 18,000 schools around the world, both public and nonpublic, took 3.7 million AP Exams.

About the College Board
The College Board is a mission-driven not-for-profit organization that connects students to college success and opportunity. Founded in 1900, the College Board was created to expand access to higher education. Today, the membership association is made up of over 6,000 of the world’s leading educational institutions and is dedicated to promoting excellence and equity in education. Each year, the College Board helps more than seven million students prepare for a successful transition to college through programs and services in college readiness and college success — including the SAT and the Advanced Placement Program. The organization also serves the education community through research and advocacy on behalf of students, educators and schools. For further information, visit

Media Contact:
Sean Ruggles, Arkadelphia Public Schools Communications Director, 870-246-5564 x1214,     

Deborah Davis, The College Board, 212-713-8052,

Thursday, November 15, 2012

AHS class of 2011 college retention rates above state, national averages

College freshman to sophomore retention rates were recently reported for the Arkadelphia High School class of 2011 graduates. In the fall of 2012, 63 of the original 90 college students from the AHS class of 2011 returned for their sophomore year, which equals a retention rate of 70 percent. According to the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, the retention rate for all Arkansas freshmen to sophomore students is 61.4 percent. Jason Jones, Executive Director of the Arkadelphia Promise, noted that the national retention rate is 67.4 percent.

“It is great to see that our students are staying in college at a rate more than eight percent higher than the state average,” Jones said. “We know that those who make it back to college for their sophomore year are much more likely to finish, so this is a big step to a degree for these students.”

The AHS class of 2011 graduates were the first to be eligible for the Arkadelphia Promise scholarship, which Jones largely credits for the high retention percentage. In addition to the scholarship, the Arkadelphia Promise program provides assistance through college advising and financial counseling for AHS students.

“We are excited to know that the work we are doing to help advise and assist our graduates is really making a difference,” Jones said. “We will continue to help Arkadelphia students find the best college fit for them, their family and their situation.” 

Arkadelphia Superintendent Donnie Whitten also linked the Arkadelphia Promise and an increase in academic rigor at AHS to students being able to stay in college.

“Our goal is to produce students who have every tool, and are prepared in every way possible, to be successful in life after high school,” Whitten said. “For those graduates who pursue a college degree, the things they need most are academic fortitude to make the grades and financial assistance to pay the bills. We are one of very few districts that do both.”

Forty of the 63 students who returned to college this fall are living in Arkadelphia and attending colleges close to home, including Henderson State University, Ouachita Baptist University, UACC-Hope and COTO in Malvern.

The Ross Foundation and Southern Bancorp fund the Arkadelphia Promise.  The goal of the Arkadelphia Promise is to increase the college-going rate for local students, reduce the number of students dropping out of college for financial reasons and provide for a more educated workforce.

Arkadelphia Promise
Jason Jones, Executive Director

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Eldridge: Attacking responsibilities not just a seasonal theme

Head Badger football coach J.R. Eldridge 

Eldridge: Attacking responsibilities not just a seasonal theme

The 2012 Badger football team capped their 9-2 season with a 7-4A Conference title and Head Coach J.R. Eldridge, in only his second season as a head high school football coach, earned the recognition of Conference Coach of the Year.

“I think the 2012 season is one of those that people will be talking about for years to come,” Athletics Director Chris Babb said. “Coach Eldridge and his staff really got the team to buy into a mentality of fulfilling your responsibility, no matter what role you had on the team. It was really neat to see the town follow suit as the season went on. From to great opening night at War Memorial, to the great support at Nashville, Ashdown and Malvern, it was great to see the community come together and get behind the Badgers this season. The seniors on this team will always be able to say that they were a part of a conference championship team that won 9 games in a season. There aren't a lot of teams that do that. There is a great tradition in Arkadelphia dating back to the 70s and through the 80s and we believe that the 2012 season could play a big role in re-establishing that winning tradition. Coach Eldridge, his staff and the players are to be commended for their success this season and we look forward to a bright future.”

It is undeniable that Badger football is on the rise and that community support is at a level unrivaled in recent years. Much of the success, and much of the recent buzz about the program, stems from a central theme of Badger football. A mark of any effective leader is the ability to champion a philosophy that the group’s members will take to heart. Behind every successful business, campaign or team is a message that not only guides their day-to-day decisions and actions, but also creates an overall identity: “Forward.” “Real change.” “Just do it.”

Eldridge is writing his own page in the book of effective slogans: “VVR.” Initially, the acronym was a message used internally with coaches and players, but the slogan went viral after Eldridge delivered a charge to Arkadelphia High School at this year’s homecoming pep rally, where he encouraged everyone present to know their role and pursue their goals with “VVR.”

Vicious. Violent. Relentless. According to Eldridge, these are the words that drive not only the Badger football program, but also the daily lives of anyone who buys into the philosophy. The slogan caught on and before long was on posters, windows of local businesses, and was being chanted from the stands at games. It is even being used as a Twitter hashtag.

“VVR is about attacking your responsibilities,” Eldridge said. “It doesn’t matter if you are a football player, band member, science teacher or engineer, we all have a job to do. Even the spectators in the stands at a game have a responsibility of showing enthusiastic support and encouragement. This philosophy applies just as much to my players getting their homework done for class as it does them fulfilling their duties on the field.”

Football is a physical, contact sport. The design of the game mimics warfare and is built largely upon opponents striking each other with their bodies hundreds of times a game. And with that said, the VVR philosophy can be easily misunderstood, but Eldridge offered a denotative explanation for the slogan and encouraged everyone to put it to use in their daily lives.

“Football is 48 minutes of legal fighting,” Eldridge said. “There are rules that must be followed and finding success is about finding a balance. VVR is not playing dirty. VVR is enveloped by the rules of the game. If it were a dirty mentality, then it would be counterproductive.”

The VVR philosophy builds upon the three words’ literal definitions, and flows in order to describe the Badgers’: 1. Intentions (vicious), 2.Actions (violent), 3. Determination (relentless).

“Vicious leads because it describes our intent and execution,” Eldridge said.  “By definition, vicious is being deliberately violent. We are deliberate in what we do. Our actions are not accidental. We prepare and practice to avoid carelessness.”

“Violent,” Eldridge continued, “is, by definition, the excessive use of force. The connotations of violent are of committing crimes, but again, VVR is not dirty, and when we are on the field between whistles, we will apply excessive force. That is how you out-play and out-execute your opponent. We rarely out-size or out-athlete our opponents. We succeed by out-playing and out-executing.”

Eldridge added that scripture includes instructions for followers who wish to take hold of the Kingdom of Heaven to do so violently. Eldridge insists that the negative connotations of the word ‘violent’ must be put aside to fully appreciate the message.

“This is about pursuing a goal with all the strength and force you contain,” Eldridge added. “It is interesting to note that our opponents have been penalized more often than us after the whistles with personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.”

The last sentence of the Arkadelphia Football creed states, “It is our goal to be the most violent and classiest team in the state.”

“We are not promoting lawlessness,” Eldridge said. “It’s actually the exact opposite.”

‘Relentless’ describes the Badger’s determination, especially in the wake of a tough end to the 2012 season. The VVR message will carry the team through the offseason as they prepare for next year.

“Relentless doesn’t rest,” Eldridge said. “Relentless is unceasing and doesn’t get complacent. This is how we pursue our goals. It is how we will continue to pursue a state championship and how we will go about continuing to improve this program so that it produces quality young men.”

Furthermore, Eldridge pointed out that the “Pursuit of VVR is intangible. We can’t touch that,” he said. “This far exceeds a tangible goal such a conference or state championship. Those are things we can attain, we can hold that trophy, we can touch it. VVR comes down to how we are living our lives. Every year we will continue to apply this philosophy to our lives and will, number one, be better people, and number two, win at whatever we are doing.”

In just two seasons as a head high school coach, Eldridge and his staff are doing things with the Badger football program that haven’t happened in years. Seven of the last nine seasons ended with a sub-.500 record; however, in 2012 the Badgers earned their first Conference Championship in over 15 years and finished with a 9-2 record. The community took note their success after the Badgers defeated Benton in the Kickoff Classic at War Memorial Stadium in the season opener and support continued to grow.

“To me, the community buying into our message is awesome,” Eldridge said. “The community being involved now is a testament to how much our players believe in this philosophy. The message has led to success. It’s led us to a conference championship. It is leading us to great accomplishments. But what is even more awesome is seeing our kids grow up to become responsible, effective, productive individuals in all that they pursue. We are doing more than coaching a successful football team, we are preparing students for life.

“I am so thankful for this opportunity. I am thankful for this coaching staff and thankful for the players and community buying in to the program. There are so many factors that go into success in a single football season. You can’t boil it down to one element or one coach. I’m just thankful to be part of it.”

By Sean Ruggles, APSD Communications Director