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story.lead_photo.caption Gary Blanks II sets up computer equipment in a computer lab Friday at the new Jacksonville High School. More photos at www. ( Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Thomas Metthe)

A brand-new three-story Jacksonville High School will open next month for more than 1,000 high school students, and there is not a metal locker in sight.

Don't need them, Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District Superintendent Bryan Duffie said Friday about the old personal storage units -- once synonymous with high school -- for holding books, folders, lunch and maybe a band instrument or a gym bag.

"They aren't going to have big heavy textbooks to carry around," Duffie said about the ninth-through-12th-graders who will be attending the $74 million campus -- not including furnishings -- in the heart of Jacksonville.

"You have your Chromebooks [laptop computers], and we'll have classroom sets of textbooks. So, at least for here, there won't be the heavy backpacks like there used to be," he said.

The new red-brick and glass school faces Main Street to the north and School Street to the south on a site that once was home to side-by-side schools, maybe best known as Jacksonville North and Jacksonville South, that served a variety of middle school and junior high purposes.

The new campus replaces the 50-year-old high school on Linda Lane that will be demolished over the next few months to make way for a new middle school and an elementary school to open in August 2021.

The construction is all part of the new district's effort to replace each of its campuses within a very few years and be released from federal court oversight of its operations, including the condition of its facilities. The district opened the new Bobby G. Lester Elementary Sachool last August, which replaced Arnold Drive and Tolleson elementaries.

The Jacksonville/North Pulaski district, carved out of the Pulaski County Special School District, began independent operations in July 2016.

Residents of the Jacksonville area sought to form a new district in large part as a way to update old campuses. As a condition for that detachment, the Jacksonville district committed to meeting the same federal court-approved school desegregation requirements as the Pulaski County Special district.

That included making older schools that serve a relatively high percentage of black students comparable with more recently built schools in predominantly white sections of the Pulaski County Special district.

Duffie said the new high school will be seen as the district's flagship campus and is symbolic.

"This is 30 years of work that the community has wanted to achieve, to have its own school district and then to have new facilities and better facilities for students to achieve and learn," he said.

The two-story entry to the school has a glass vestibule between the outer doors and main interior of the building. Administrative offices decorated in shades of red, black, gray and white are to the immediate right.

Farther to the west is an expansive student dining area with its many serving lines and mix of different size and different heights of tables and chairs. Large screens on the walls offer the possibility of viewing news and sports channels, Duffie said.

Large walls of windows and doors in the dining area provide lots of natural light and easy student access to a large outdoor commons area with wide stair-seating.

The western section of the building -- closest to U.S. 67/167 -- is the kitchen and 75-seat dining space for the student-run Simply Delicious restaurant for the public.

For the first time this school year, two members of the Pulaski Technical College faculty will teach culinary arts-related courses at the school so that students can earn training certifications.

The absence of lockers in the L-shaped Jacksonville High allows for wide hallways of burnished concrete block walls mixed with windows looking into classrooms, classroom doorways accented in red, and intermittently placed stretches of wood countertops.

The school's first-floor media center, furnished with different shaped tables and boldly colored, movable soft furniture, includes study and meeting carrels around its perimeter. The media center's south wall of windows looks out to the courtyard that is in the joint of the L-shaped building.

The suite of counselors offices, banks of computers and a wider space known as the University Center -- so that students and families can meet with college recruiters -- also are on the first floor.

Larry Townsend, a longtime volunteer in the Jacksonville schools, was in the counselor suite Friday, helping to unpack boxes moved from the old high school.

"I'm the oldest parent in the district," the white-haired Townsend said. "I've had 40 international exchange students."

Townsend said he likes the new building for several reasons.

"It's close to home -- only 1 mile down the road. And I like the openness with all the windows. The old school didn't have any windows in the classrooms."

Additionally, the new school has enclosed hallways unlike the old school in which the hallways weren't closed at their ends to the outdoors. "The temperature will be consistent," Townsend said.

Career education will include the school's certified nursing assistant program, the Air Force Junior Officer Reserve Training program and the Jobs for Arkansas Graduates career internship program.

Two art classrooms are on the first floor as is the "maker space" room that has the potential to be loaded with 3-D printers and other technology to accommodate special projects that students and their teachers undertake.

The new school features computer laboratories for business education, computer science and cybersecurity instruction.

Sam Grubb will teach computer science with a security emphasis and eventually an advanced security course. There are 20 Internet-connected computers in his computer-science classroom and 20 in the cyber lab. The cyber-lab devices aren't connected to the Internet.

"We have locked or cut the access so that when they are using security tools they don't accidentally unleash those tools somewhere else."

Grubb said the students will work in "a closed network. They are going to be doing simulated attacks. I'm going to be attacking them so they will know what it looks like when an incident actually happens."

"This is leading edge -- it's very advanced, not just for the state but for the nation in terms of secondary education," Grubb also said. "We're at the forefront."

The new school's second floor is home to most of the traditional classrooms -- all of which are about 850 square feet, at least 200 square feet larger than the rooms in the old school. The third floor will house the science labs with their kidney-bean shaped tables. Each of the four labs is shared by two classrooms.

Still being completed are the auditorium, music and band rooms, as well as the gymnasium, indoor practice field and football stadium and track -- home turf for the Jacksonville Titans. The season's first home game will be played on the old high school field, but the new stadium should be ready for the second home game at the end of September, Duffie said.

The district is planning to have an open house and/or dedication ceremony for the new building in the coming weeks, Duffie said.

Photo by Thomas Metthe
Work continues in a courtyard outside the new Jacksonville High School. The old Jacksonville High School is currently being torn down, and an alumnus wants to find a mural he painted inside before the entire building is gone.

Metro on 07/28/2019


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Archived Comments

  • Skeptic1
    July 28, 2019 at 8:28 a.m.

    Lipstick on a pig, the building will not correct the inferior education our students receive from a public school system that shows consistent failure year after year. That money should have been used for vouchers so parents can utilize Charter and private schools that compete for students by their performance,

  • FollowDaMoney
    July 28, 2019 at 9:01 a.m.

    As a Jacksonville Southside and JHS alum-this is exactly one of the things the town needed to begin any sort of revival. We sent all our tax money out to Dixon road for years and stood by as our buildings crumbled and the best teachers were pulled to Mills. Why in the world would sending it to a charter school help the town?

  • PopMom
    July 28, 2019 at 10:46 a.m.


    Great schools come in all forms--charter, private, and public. The quality of the teachers, curriculum, students, and parents matter more than the physical school building. My local high school in Maryland is pretty old and nasty, but it ranks 25th in the country in SAT scores. Local schools can improve themselves by hiring better master teachers and by just making sure that the kids spend many hours every year reading and performing math problems. You can't allow truancy and you can't afford teachers who don't know how to teach. Jacksonville would have shown better results by hiring some great administrators and teachers and more reading and math assistants. You will be glad to know that the "liberal" Washington Post had an editorial commenting on how charter schools can be a good thing. Also, they liberals are wrong when they think testing is a bad thing. Testing actually gauges what a child knows, does not know, and still needs to learn. Good school districts use this information to evaluate teachers and to help students learn what they do not know. How else do you know which class a kid needs for the next year? It's nice that Jacksonville has a pretty building, but buildings do not transfer knowledge into kids' brains.

  • Jfish
    July 28, 2019 at 1:17 p.m.

    It would be interesting to check by in 5 years and do a comparison.

  • NoUserName
    July 28, 2019 at 1:51 p.m.

    Based on figures I can find, this appears to be about $300/sq foot. Which is on par with average construction cost per foot throughout the country. However, having looked at some of the pictures, I can't help but notice some of the apparent regality in the building and wonder if that is the best use of funds.
    As for charters, studies show they don't really make an improvement. That being said, school systems have guaranteed funding sources, including from those that don't even have kids. There is zero incentive to ensure money is spent wisely or efficiently. If nothing else, vouchers could force public districts to do just that at the expense of losing funding.

    July 28, 2019 at 2:55 p.m.

    They'll be adding lockers in a few years. Once coats, band instruments and other personal stuff goes missing on a regular basis they'll figure out that lockers are just for those "big heavy textbooks."
    Charter schools, at least in Arkansas, are public schools, too. They receive public funds - the money follows the student. That's a big reason why traditional public schools and the unions don't like them. When a student goes to a charter school the state allotment goes with them.

  • Seitan
    July 28, 2019 at 3:08 p.m.

    Septic. All the schools in Finland are public, and they have the best educational system in the world. The problem is people like you: all negative, all the time.

  • NoUserName
    July 28, 2019 at 3:38 p.m.

    How are taxes in Finland?

  • Seitan
    July 28, 2019 at 3:44 p.m.

    Nousername. Slightly higher than here, but then again they are not afraid to call a tax a tax. They don't bury it under a lot of bureaucratic language, and then individuals don't have to pay for school or healthcare out-of-pocket (ie. tuition, insurance, etc.). No one goes broke because they went to college or got cancer. I would like that for all of my American neighbors.

  • Moonglowalso
    July 28, 2019 at 3:57 p.m.

    Where do you put your coat, umbrella, etc.? Do you have to carry these items with you all day?