Little Rock School District Superintendent Mike Poore will recommend one of three options that would change high school attendance zones at tonight’s LRSD Community Advisory Board meeting at 5:30 p.m., to be held at district headquarters, 810 W. Markham St. The CAB may vote on a proposal tonight and recommend it for approval by Education Secretary Johnny Key, who acts as the LRSD’s school board under state takeover.
Two of the options, all of which have been the subject of debate at community meetings this week, are almost identical: They would make Hall High a magnet with no geographic attendance zone. All students in Little Rock would be zoned for either Central High School, the new Southwest High School or a new Pinnacle View High School in West Little Rock. The only difference between Options 1 and 2 is that Option 2 would “double-zone” an area in West Little Rock for both Central and Pinnacle View and allow students in that area to choose where to attend. Parkview Magnet High School would continue to operate as a magnet school, and Hall and Parkview would seek to attract students by offering exciting programming and opportunities.
Option 3, on the other hand, does not include an attendance zone for Pinnacle View. It expands Hall’s geographic attendance zone to include parts of Hillcrest, the Treasure Hill area and Walton Heights.
Many people in the LRSD have expressed strong feelings about the proposals. For the most part, I have heard negative reactions to Option 3. Many people simply do not want their neighborhood to be zoned for Hall, which is currently labeled by the Arkansas Department of Education as an “F” school. As a parent of two young children, I deeply and genuinely understand the fear and concern many families have right now. Our reasoning in the purchase of our new home was based in part on the schools for which it was zoned, and we are in the area that would be rezoned under Option 3. Like many others in our neighborhood, we are worried. Hall’s future is unknown.
What I am about to say next, though, may surprise you. I am asking my neighbors across the city to approach the current rezoning issue in a way that will not make it harder for Hall to succeed as we move forward under any of the three proposals.
Regardless of which plan the district adopts, what happens at Hall will directly impact students across the city. Under Option 3, of course, many more students will be zoned for Hall, so either Hall will succeed or we will lose many more students from the district. Under Options 1 or 2, more students will be zoned for Central, which is already above capacity. If we fail to make Hall an attractive option that draws students by choice, not only could it create overcrowding problems at Central, we potentially could lose students from the district.
My concern is that the tone of the debate regarding the boundary-line adjustments could make it much more difficult for Hall to succeed under any of the three options. When we tell our neighbors that “my kid will never go to Hall,” or repeat phrases like “F-rated school” or “failing,” we make it less likely that our neighbors will ever give Hall serious consideration, even if the programing and opportunities offered there are excellent.
On top of that, those labels don’t paint an accurate picture of Hall. The state’s system of assigning letter grades to schools, based largely on one standardized test, the ACT Aspire, has been widely criticized. Moreover, Hall is the home of the LRSD’s welcome center for English-language learners, meaning that many Hall students have a language barrier that makes standardized testing even more difficult (under all three zoning proposals, these students would move to the new Southwest High School). Finally, the state’s letter grade fails to convey that Hall has seen recent improvements in student-growth scores and graduation rates and is one of only three public schools in Arkansas admitted to the National Cum Laude Society, the high school equivalent of Phi Beta Kappa.
Rebuilding and rebranding Hall will be the cornerstone of future success for the entire LRSD, but it cannot happen unless each of us commits to helping. It is always hard to be part of a change, but we have a great model of how this could work. Forest Heights STEM Academy recently went through just such a revitalization, and through hard work by the district, teachers, and administrators, and through the willingness of some families to take a leap of faith and support an educational vision they believed in, Forest Heights is now so in demand that there is a waiting list every year.
Little Rock families, we have an opportunity to be part of the solution right now. It will be hard, but who is better equipped to fight for the future of our district and our city than generations, past and future, of Hall High Warriors?