Create a plan
Reviewing the past, evaluating the present and envisioning the future, city, community and school leaders met for the first of several Vision meetings recently.
School superintendent Rick Neal, reflecting on his 13 years in the Pea Ridge School District, the last six of which have been as superintendent, said: “I’ll never forget the day when I got the opportunity to serve this district.
“It was 108 degrees and I held my first Board meeting in the old Blackhawk Stadium.”
“If you haven’t played a game at the old Pea Bowl … it was an unbelievable environment!”
Neal, noting that Pea Ridge is an “uncommon community, uncommon place, uncommon school,” said the environment and community feeling is what makes him passionate about his work in Pea Ridge.
“Over the last five years, we’ve seen an explosion of growth and participation,” he said.
Five years ago, there were 175 students actively involved in football, band, cheerleading and other extracurricular activities. Now, there are 2,140 students overall with more than 700 students involved in extra activities.
“There is a definite correlation between participation and education … with that correlation comes student growth. Students come to school. Students participate. They don’t drop out if they’re participating in band, ball, other clubs and organizations.
“The participation piece is as important as the actual academic instruction,” he said.
“This piece right here is a game changer!”
Thanks to the increase participation, 65 percent of Pea Ridge students are going to college and 27 percent are finishing.
Neal encouraged the group to think about what’s happened in
the past, think about what the school leadership is currently doing and envision what’s possible.
“What makes Pea Ridge unique?” he asked. “It’s about community. It’s about how we educate our children. It’s about what we do for our community.
“Witness the history we’re making,” he said as he shared the history of the Pea Ridge schools and the growth from one campus downtown to four campuses.
“We have done well over the last several years. You have allowed us, and we have allowed each other, to create these facilities, to improve performance, improve instruction,” he said.
Improvements and additions include a new bus shop, a new band room and fine arts room, additional classrooms, an Industrial Tech lab, an agricultural program, a pre-kindergarten program and the Pea Ridge Manufacturing and Business Academy.
“This is exciting work!” he exclaimed.
“More than 3,500 people came out to the first football game. With the flag line, band, cheerleaders … parents involved … we have most unbelievable community involvement,” he said, further expounding that the atmosphere previously felt at the old Pea Bowl had been replicated at the new stadium, but tripled.
“It’s real big piece of where we’re going right here … what it’s done in the athletic program is it allows our children to compete. If we have more people participating and we have that performance, we’re going to do well,” Neal said.
The second of a series of Vision meetings is slated for 11:15 a.m. Thursday.