El Dorado district focuses on school grades, growth

EL DORADO -- The El Dorado School District is looking to continue focusing on areas where it saw improvement in the state's grades.

In the grades released for the 2017-18 school year from the Arkansas Department of Education in October, Hugh Goodwin Elementary School received a B, Northwest Elementary School received a C, Retta Brown Elementary School and Yocum Elementary School received F's. Washington Middle School received a C, Barton Junior High School received a C and El Dorado High School received a C.

In Union County, no school received an A grade.

Jim Tucker, El Dorado superintendent, said the district is seeing growth in the areas that it's been focusing on.

"Whenever we look at the reports, we try to dissect specific data," Tucker said. "What we were looking for was areas that we've worked on is the growth in those areas. That's what we saw. And then you look to see what areas we need to improve on, but the positive, of course, is the areas of growth that we saw. You put in a lot of work, you try to do a lot of things, but you don't really know if it's going to pay off until you see those results."

Education has been a major initiative for this south Arkansas city.

El Dorado is home of the El Dorado Promise, a scholarship program established and funded by the Murphy Oil Corporation. The program provides graduates of El Dorado High with a scholarship covering tuition and mandatory fees that can be used at any accredited two- or four-year, public or private college or university in the U.S., according to the program's website. The maximum amount payable is up to the highest annual resident tuition at an Arkansas public university.

Fewer than 100 cities nationally have such programs. The first one started in Kalamazoo in western Michigan.

At El Dorado's school system, one of the areas Tucker said the district has been working on is a new reading program that was implemented two years ago.

The district has also been working on math and science, Tucker said, but there's been a strong focus on reading since "that's the base for everything."

Going forward, Tucker said the district is going to continue to work on those areas.

Tucker said the district is starting a little bit of a strong focus on math this year with a method based in explaining the logic behind math problems and using different visuals to help students follow along.

Tucker said the district is exploring changes to the math curriculum for all grades. He said anytime the district implements something, there isn't a great gain to be seen the first year, but that he and the math chair have been happy with how the two programs are going so far.

"There's a sense of urgency there," Tucker said. "Teachers have been stepping up and having a good attitude. Teaching is a tough tough job, people don't realize until they do it. But they're moving forward with it and making gains."

Additionally, the district is working with consultants at five of the schools -- Retta Brown and Yocum Elementary schools, Washington Middle School, Barton Jr. High and El Dorado High.

One of the programs Tucker said the district has in place and is continuing to work on is the response-to-intervention system. Through this, teachers and administrators can identify a student who is starting to struggle in a subject and try to get that student additional help before they fall further behind.

Another system the elementary schools have started to implement over the past few years, which Tucker said is proving to be helpful, is the standards based reporting system. This year, it is being used in kindergarten through second grade at all four elementary schools.

The system does away with the regular letter grades and instead tests students based on whether they're meeting a certain benchmark on their own, with a little bit of help, with a lot of help or struggling even with help.

"We know where the deficit areas are," Tucker said, adding "and we know how to help those students get where they need to be ..."

When looking at the grading system as a whole, Tucker said that any time a system tries to judge how good or bad a school is, there's going to be issues with it, but it is the system that Arkansas currently has and thus it's the system that the district has to work with. He said he isn't sure if there is a system that would be an accurate representation.

"There's many factors that come into play," Tucker said. "As you look across the state at schools and students that on average didn't perform well, it basically came down to two things.

"It came down to attendance -- students that check out early, come in late, don't come to school, they just didn't perform well -- and those who may not have a strong support system at home, they didn't perform well.

"It's consistent throughout the country. Those two things play a big role in how well a student can do. The school is going to do everything they can, but it still takes support."

Metro on 12/24/2018