Reacting to decline in student numbers, Vilonia officials speading the word that the community is a great place to raise children

The Vilonia School District may still be feeling after effects of the two tornadoes that shook the city, according to school officials. However, they would like to get the word out that the city is “coming back,” and it is a “great place” to raise children.

Enrollment for the 2016/17 school year is down, said Dr. David Stephens addressing the Vilonia Board of Education, this week. A drop off in the student population, he said, will result in a decrease in government funding. The student population numbers are anticipated to fluxuate, Stephens said, in the first few months of school. But, he said, he didn’t expect to be down about 50 students to begin the year.

“It is early (in the school year) but families just aren’t moving here,” Stephens said, adding that he doesn’t know why. “We need for everyone to see Vilonia as a great place for them to raise their children.”

Stephens said he has been in communication with the city officials and hopes to hold public meetings to try to “see what is going on” and what can be done to show the positives of the area.

Members of the board speculated the two tornadoes happening in 2011 and 2014 is a factor with the student numbers being down.  Board president Randy Sanders spoke about the growth that has been done regarding housing and new businesses. “We are coming back,” he offered.

It’s a good plan, Sanders said, to have a get-together with the city officials and discuss the matter.

On that note, Stephens said there “is incredible teaching going on in the district.”  Spotlighting high school science teacher Harriet Benzing, a short clip of her, in a classroom, was shown.

In related conversation, there was also talk of focusing on students’ individual needs. Cathy Riggins, assistant superintendent, mentioned programs to keep kids in school and programs to get those, who have dropped out, back in. She said she plans to invite some alumni back and to talk about potential improvements areas for the district.  We are already good, she said, “but it is our goal to be in the top 10 districts of the state.”

In other business, the board:

--Approved the budget to include improvements to the salary schedule.

--Approved four student transfer requests from Conway.

--Approved Sysco as the district food vendor.

--Approved the purchase of diesel from Green and Chapman at a cost of $11,585.62.

--Approved renewing the Microsoft EES license for one year at $17,480.

--Approved the purchase of a Chevrolet Traverse from Bale Chevrolet for $25,188.21. This is replacing an older model Buick that was totaled during an accident where Riggins was injured.  It was said the replacement value for the Buick was about $4,000.  

--Approved a service contract with Arch Ford Co-op for special education services (49 students) at a cost of $610 per student or $29,890.

--The district, which already issues standards-based report cards for kindergarteners, will implement it for first grade students this year. Educators, in the audience as well as Stephens, spoke in favor of the change. The ABC based report cards, he said, reflect an “A means the student is doing what he or she is supposed to do.”  However, Stephens said, it may also reflect the student is good at memorizing spelling words and test answers.  

“As a parent, I prefer state standards report cards,” he said. “I think this is best for kids and parents.”

The standards based report cards, he said, allows students to be evaluated on what they are doing on a daily basis. It was also said the standards based report cards reflect “more relevant information,” allowing teachers to pinpoint what is needed for improvement for individual students. The plan, the educators said, is to eventually implement the standards based report cards in K-3.