Some things get better with age. Members of the 1974 senior class who visited El Dorado for their 40th reunion saw evidence of many changes. They were encouraged that so many changes were for the better. It was an honor to see the progress made in our little south Arkansas town, despite economic challenges and a reduction in population. The community has a treasure in El Dorado Public Schools.
Those who attended the tour of El Dorado High School were amazed. Alva Reibe, one of our classmates, is now the principal and gave us an excellent walk through the campus. The high school we attended was built in the 60s. This 2012 campus reflects the changes that have occurred over the years. The campus is secure, yet beautiful and inviting, and packed with new technology.
As you arrive, there’s no doubt about where to enter. The entrance and lobby make you want to hang out and enjoy fellowship with others. This was also a good place to enjoy some Spud-nuts. If you’re not from El Dorado, you might not understand the significance of these little treats.
The tour took us down several hallways. I commented that it was like a mall, with wide, open hallways, and windows into classrooms. Alva explained that administrators can stand at hallway intersections between classes and cover all hallways to see that transitions are smooth and safe. They are also able to observe teachers watching transitions between classes.
Many of us were excited to see new Fine Arts facilities. The band room was large and beautiful, with several smaller rehearsal areas. The theater was a great improvement over the little theater we remembered from our campus.
The new gym has seating on all sides which is a change from the one-sided seating we remembered from our campus. The gym featured large wooden beams and natural light, a testimony to the importance of the lumber industry in the El Dorado area.
A short program at the South Arkansas Arboretum was held to remember classmates who have died over the years. Of our class of 400-plus, about 60 had died. Beth Waldrop, classmate and now methodist minister, facilitated a short service assisted by classmates who sang, read poetry, and place small stones with classmates’ names at the fountain. It was a moving time of remembrance and thankfulness.
When Great Trees Fall by Maya Angelou’s
Reading by Sheila Primm
When great trees fall, rocks on distant hills shudder, Lions hunker down in tall grasses, and even elephants lumber after safety.
When great trees fall in forests, small things recoil into silence, their senses eroded beyond fear When great souls die, the air around us becomes light, rare, sterile. We breathe, briefly. Our eyes, briefly, see with a hurtful clarity. Our memory, suddenly sharpened, examines, gnaws on kind words unsaid, promised walks never taken. Great souls die and our reality, bound to them, takes leave of us.
Our souls, dependent upon their nurture, now shrink, wizened. Our minds, formed and informed by their radiance, fall away. We are not so much maddened as reduced to the unutterable ignorance of dark, cold caves.
And when great souls die, after a period peace blooms, lowly and always irregularly. Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration. Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us. They existed. They existed. We can be. Be, and be better. For they existed.
A highlight for me personally was hearing Rusty Meadows sing a little chorus he wrote related to the work he does in family counseling. He was hesitant about singing, but we were glad he did. Sometimes the strength of a song isn’t so much in the music as it is in the life behind the music.
As the placing of stones concluded, Don Parks filled the air with a beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace. We left thankful for renewed friendships, and thankful for our journeys thus far. Our paths often look crooked and confusing as we travel, but when we pause to glance back, the way seems to make sense. It sometimes seems to be exactly the path we should have taken.
I wish all the best to the class of ’74 and look forward to seeing you in five years.
Link to the script for the memorial program: EHS 40th Reunion Memorial Service-script
Disclaimer: The following is base on my own best recollection.
We’ve been down some interesting, and often wayward, school improvement paths in Arkansas. I recently came across a school improvement document written for my present school back in the early 1990s. It was called Comprehensive Outcomes Evaluation (COE). We had a similar plan where I was teaching in south Arkansas about that same time. It was nice and thick with a pretty cover. I should have held onto it for future reference and a few laughs. But, the thing is, it wasn’t funny because educators had invested time in this plan.
Research to support why you were doing what you were doing was not necessary, and results were not tracked. It was just a litany of things to do that MIGHT improve student learning in your school. Areas to improve included almost everything. There were goals written for literacy, math, and science, social studies, and school discipline. I’m not sure how the arts and physical education escaped being topics for improvement.
A few years later I became principal at Yocum Elementary School in El Dorado. Leading this school was a wonderful experience. After being there a few months, I unearthed their COE. I almost cried. It had lists of task in each content area involving all staff. I read it and then placed it on my shelf. I learned that my predecessor and one teacher had stayed in the office for a couple of weeks, writing that COE with no input from staff. I never referred to the document again, but harbored the hope that we would involve teachers in the development of our COE.
The name changed sometime in the late 1990s. The word “Outcomes” from COE became a politically loaded term. The new name was Arkansas Consolidated School Improvement Plan (ACSIP). Later, the term “Consolidated” acquired negative connotations due to controversial consolidation of smaller school districts, so the name was changed again to Arkansas Comprehensive School Improvement Plan (still ACSIP). Over time the ACSIP lived up to the term COMPREHENSIVE.
In the early 2000s, while attending the Arkansas Leadership Academy, I advocated in favor of the ACSIP. I argued that, if developed collaboratively, the ACSIP could function as a real improvement plan, influencing the work of the school. The leaders of this training believed that the ACSIP was becoming a compliance document and that there was a need for writing another REAL improvement plan with your staff. They were right. It didn’t take long for every piece of legislation to end with the phrase, “and this shall be documented in the schools’ ACSIP.”
What we ended up with was the humorous, yet tragic, spectacle of a Health and Wellness committee as part of the school improvement plan. The State Department of Education prescribed goals to improve student health and lower the body mass index of students (BMI). Thanks to state legislation, we had school improvement actions stating how many times per year we could offer students snacks in school. I support physical fitness (see my other blog) but do not think this has a place in the school improvement plan, unless a staff makes it their priority.
We’ve puttered along for several years now, watching our ACSIP swell in size and shrink in impact. Finally, we had a State Department of Education Commissioner and a couple of legislators who listened and realized that the ACSIP needed to change. We were so excited about this development that we gladly signed up to be a pilot school in the new program being used to enter school improvement goals and actions. I’ve continued to hold the belief, though sometimes fleeting, that it is possible to have a school improvement plan that truly influences the direction of the school and improves student learning.
This short history brings us to the present and our attendance of a day of training at the Convention Center in Fort Smith in September. We entered the room with our laptops in hand, looking forward to learning how to use the new web based program to document real school improvement planning in our school. At 1:15 p.m. we still had not opened the program together or gotten our hands into the real work. We were frustrated! What we endured that day was a remediation course in school improvement. I expressed my frustration in a letter. I was troubled that this opportunity to build on our enthusiasm was squandered.
Our district’s technology trainer worked with us later, accomplishing in 1.5 hours what was not accomplish in a whole day with the state training. We maintained our enthusiasm and are now on the path of possibly making the ACSIP a meaningful school improvement process for our school.
ACSIP still stands for Arkansas Comprehensive School Improvement Plan. I think the name should be changed to something like ARSIP for Arkansas Responsive School Improvement Plan. We should then rise up and say “NO!” when the inevitable additions begin to flow down from Little Rock. We must say, “We will NOT put that in our school improvement plan. It is a living document that we are revising based on best practices and the needs of our students, not what some external entity dictates.”
My hope is that we don’t end up adopting the name, “Arkansas Prescribed School Improvement Plan.” Our best defense against this is to become deeply engaged in making our school improvement plans real, while guarding against the incursion of distant forces who think they can best prescribe to the needs of our school.
I choose to be hopeful. It will be interesting to see where we go from here.