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Monday, May 2, 2016

Salem school board discusses elementary achievement, improving school facilities

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

For the third year in a row, Salem Elementary School students are being recognized for their accomplishments in the classroom. Salem Elementary has been named a 2010-2011 Higher Performing School by the National Center for Educational Achievement. Students not only scored well on Benchmark tests, but their scores increased over last year's results in math, literacy and science. Photo by Richard Irby
Participants of Salem Elementary's Gifted and Talented students program were recently given a challenge - make boats out of cardboard that would hold up in water and float. On Nov. 2, eight two- person teams of third to sixth graders headed to the Salem City Park lake to test their creations out.

School administrators say cardboard boats and other programs to inspire students are one reason Salem Elementary has been named a National Center for Educational Achievement (NCEA) Higher Performing School for the third year in a row.

"83 schools in Arkansas were honored with this award, but we were the only one to be honored in math, literacy and science for advanced performance and growth," Principal Corey Johnson told the Salem School Board on Monday, Nov. 21.

"I would like to thank the teachers for all the hard work they do and the students and community support," Johnson added.

Superintendent Ken Rich said it is especially notable that Salem Elementary students continue to show consistent improvement in student achievement from each previous year.

"The growth is the one that is getting tougher and tougher. Because our students are performing so high, it's harder to reach the growth marks each year," Rich said. "I am proud of them."

Salem Elementary was named a Higher Performing School in 2004, as well as the last three years.

Calico Rock and Cherokee Elementary Schools and Mammoth Spring High School were other schools in our area to receive the Higher Performing School honor.

In other business, the school board discussed updating its master facilties plan, a ten-year plan for upgrading school buildings to keep pace with future needs.

Rich noted that two projects on the current Salem facilities plan have been completed, as a new roof over the high school gymnasium and new elementary school playground equipment were installed this summer.

The superintendent suggested three other projects need to be given priority because they can qualify for funding under the state Partnership program, in which the state pays the majority of the cost.

The most urgent upgrades are replacing heating and cooling systems at the elementary and high schools. "The elementary HVAC units are 17 years old. The high school units are 15 years old, and, really, those units at both schools are at the end of their life cycle," said Rich, adding the systems will need to remain in service until 2013, the earliest new partnership money will be available.

A preliminary estimate of how many tons of heating and cooling the schools have and how much more the schools will need, puts the price to replace the high school system at $750,000 and $400,000 for the elementary school.

Since state partnership assistance is based on the "wealth index" of each school, considerable help should be available.

"As it is today, we would only pay for 30 percent of those projects. So, if we have a one million dollar project, we're only going to be looking at paying $300,000 then," Rich explained.

The discussion centered on whether to seek funds for both school HVAC projects, or seek one in the 2013-2015 funding cycle and the other in 2015-2017, to spread out the cost of the school system's outlay.

Board member Karen Coffman favored pursuing both projects at once.

"If you don't do that (seek partnership funds) and they are at the end of their life cycle, you're going to be buying them anyway. They are not going to be going down in price," Coffman said.

A third top priority on the master facilities list is renovation of the high school's band hall, which is small and outdated. Current thinking is, a 50-foot by 50-foot addition can be made to the existing band room, near the gymnasium. While no firm estimates have been obtained, the superintendent believes the project will cost in the neighborhood of $300,000 to $500,000.

"If it was up to my recommendation, I'd say go for (state funding for) all three projects," Rich said.

The school system currently has $1.2 million in its building fund to cover its share of any of the projects that are funded.

Also on the list are proposals to build a new middle school or add five new classrooms to both the elementary and high school.

According to Rich, those projects should always be left on the facilities list in case unexpected growth in enrollment should occur. As long as they are listed on the facilities plan, state assistance can be sought.

"What we need to do is try to get some more concrete numbers and come back in December and have a public meeting to present these ideas to any patrons who want to hear about them and then submit that plan by February first," Rich suggested.

In other business, the board accepted a bid from the Diamond State Bus Company for a new 65-passenger school bus. The bid for the purchase, which was approved last school year, is $75,285. The bus should be delivered by spring.

The superintendent thanked school and community volunteers who helped host the November state tournament playoff game at Greyhounds stadium.

A number of student groups, including the football team, junior and senior cheerleaders and FFA members, were recognized for their success in recent competitions.

Also praised were 41 students who took the ACT, college entrance exam in October, and produced impressive scores.

The December meeting of the Salem School Board will take place on December 19 at 7:00 p.m. at the Superintendent's office. The public is invited to attend.

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