En­vi­sion suc­cess

Cre­ate a plan

The Times (Northeast Benton County) - - FRONT PAGE - AN­NETTE BEARD abeard@nwadg.com

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.

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