PCSSD to use $10 mil. in desegregation payments for joint venture with colleges

For parent Meredith Poland, the Speech and Communication Program at Clinton Elementary School was a dream come true for her daughter."She had a speech IEP when she came in kindergarten where she was not really able to get up in front of her peers and talk comfortably. She's now on stage doing the Wizard of Oz play. I mean, that's a direct correlation to the Speech and Communication Program here at this school," said Poland.That program relies on money from the desegregation agreement, and parents recently learned that it and a technology program will be cut at the end of this school year along with about 40 other programs and teachers in the district."Those are some of the programs that are not required by state standards that had been part of Plan 2000 that we're proposing to eliminate," said PCSSD Superintendent Dr. Jerry Guess.With desegregation payments ending in three years, the district decided instead to use $10 million to partner with the University of Arkansas Little Rock and Philander Smith College, starting a program for at risk African American high school students."The cuts that have to be made in three years are going to be made now so we can give life to this program," explained Guess.The remedial program is aimed at getting kids into college by engaging them in once a month Saturday classes during the school year, ACT prep, remedial work with a mentor, utilization of the COMPASS placement test and a summer bridge program at the colleges. Upon completion of the program, students will be eligible for a scholarship to either UALR or Philander Smith."It will show the students who have gotten into the pipeline who have not achieved and who already think of themselves as failures that there is hope," touted John Walker, attorney for the Joshua intervenors. Tintervenersion will be combined with money already designated for the Dr. Charles W. Donaldson Scholars Academy. Donaldson says more revenue sources will be sought to supplement the program for years to come."What we're doing here will have a benefit long past that three years because this $10 million will extend services long past those desegregation funds," said Guess. School officials estimate more than 200 students will be admitted into the program next year, and by the time incoming freshman graduate, an estimated 8,000 students will have been helped."When we in public education talk about college and career ready, this is it," said Dr. Janice Warren, PCSSD Assistant Superintendent.Warren said cutting the Speech and Communication Program is unfortunate, but she believes that different departments within the school can work together to continue putting on productions. Poland, who is the incoming PTA president, isn't as convinced. She objects to the idea of putting more work on already 'overloaded' teachers and says the program is more than just an end of the year play. Poland also lamented the loss of a technology program and worried the 40 computers in the two labs would go unused, wasting resources and educational opportunities. She and other parents have asked for a one year reprieve for their programs, but with the first $3.3 million payment due in July, that does not seem likely.Poland said the PTA would immediately begin looking for community and business partners to keep the programs alive, but she acknowledged that the teachers whose contracts were not renewed, would likely not stick around to find out if funding could be made available.For now, the petition is not yet finalized. Though both parties agreed, it must first has to be approved by the court.