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The news has been pretty gloomy on the education front of late, what with Dollarway's future hanging in the balance and Pine Bluff's fortunes seemingly in the same boat. But in an effort not to let that situation dominate the total message, we draw your attention to the Pine Bluff, Dollarway and Watson Chapel school districts.

The department recently announced that it had received $5.5 million in literacy subgrants and that the money would be spread over 128 schools and districts, including the above.

The grants are called SOAR, which stands for Successful Outcomes for Arkansas Readers.

Said Education Department Secretary Johnny Key: "We are extremely excited to award these much-needed funds to deserving schools and districts that submitted comprehensive plans to improve literacy at their schools and in their communities. I cannot stress enough the importance of building a strong foundation in reading and through this grant, educators will take their literacy programs to the next level. ..."

The money is significant.

In the Pine Bluff district, Southwood got $30,000; Pine Bluff High School got $50,000; 34th Avenue Elementary, $30,000; and Broadmoor Elementary, $15,000.

The Dollarway district got close to $68,000. And the Watson Chapel district got almost $100,000.

If you thought the grants were sprinkled around without much thought or that they simply went to schools and districts that were, hat in hand, in need of money for literacy, you would be wrong.

Key mentioned a few weeks ago that the grants were on their way and said the districts and schools that got them had programs of their own in place to beef up literacy and that those programs had shown promise. And, as he said more recently, the entities that wanted the grants had to come through with precise applications in how they would go about using the money.

The money will help districts and schools focus on literacy instruction, professional development for teachers; involving early childhood educators; and fostering collaboration.

The grants themselves have their foundations in RISE Arkansas (Reading Initiative for Student Excellence) which was launched by the Education Department and Gov. Asa Hutchinson in 2017.

The goal of that program is to "strengthen reading instruction, create community collaboration and build a culture of reading," according to the state Education Department.

Yes, build a culture of reading. That is the path to a successful future, for individual students, for sure, but for our own community as well.

Congratulations to Superintendent Barbara Warren, who oversees both the Dollarway and Pine Bluff school districts, and to Jerry Guess, superintendent at Watson Chapel, both of whom are ultimately responsible for applying for such grants, getting them and, most importantly, making sure they work.


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