THE ISSUE: Three schools in Pine Bluff have been removed from the state’s academic distress list. THE IMPACT: Being removed from the academic distress list means that educational performance is improving at the city’s schools, which can lead to more productive students and a better quality of life.

The Arkansas Board of Education voted Thursday to remove three Jefferson County schools from academic distress.

Pine Bluff High School and Belair Middle School in the Pine Bluff School District and Watson Chapel High School in the Watson Chapel School District were among a total of 10 schools in Arkansas that were removed from academic distress. The entire Blythville School District was also removed from the list.

The education department defines academic distress as a school that has fewer than 49.5 percent of students who score proficient or advanced in math or literacy on state-mandated tests during three consecutive years.

Pine Bluff Superintendent Michael Robinson hailed the news as a great milestone for the district. He credited scholars, parents, teachers, administrators and central office employees for their hard work.

“We are happy today for this encouragement, which will help us to do more and to persevere in our plight to ensure that our district moves forward academically,” Robinson, who has a doctorate in educational leadership, said in a written statement. “Our teachers and administrators know the benefit of hard work.

“Although we have been removed from the state’s list, we continue to make strides to address our deficit with numeracy and literacy. As we work toward our focus of the Instructional Core of our system’s Coherence Framework, we continue to look at our Theory of Change. We shall continue to do what we can to address the 79 percent of our third-graders who are not reading on or above grade level. Collaboratively, as a district, we shall conquer that just as we did academic distress. We will work to ensure that every scholar in our district, over time, is reading proficiently on or above grade level. If we don’t, we will regress.”

Robinson continued: “Some may not see the big picture, but I can see excellence and achievement,” he said. “I see us taking the educational experiences for our scholars to an entirely new level. We appreciate the state’s support and guidance, as we continue to work toward the mark of ‘Excellence All Day Every Day.’ I am very happy about the continued partnership with the state. I continue to ask for mentors for our scholars so that each of them will have a fighting chance to be successful. Mentorship is one of the main keys to our success.”

Watson Chapel Superintendent Connie Hathorn was similarly pleased, crediting his students, teachers, administrators, and central office support team. Their work has paid dividends.

“We really focus on the data we gathered on each student from the state assessments and made the necessary adjustment in the classroom relative to the instructional delivery system to improve our student achievement,” Hathorn, who holds a doctorate in educational administration and supervision, said in a statement. “The whole team is commended for believing in our students and themselves.”

He hailed the partnership with the Arkansas Department of Education as great and credited the agency for working with the school improvement specialist, high school principal and director of teaching and learning to provide strategies and support.

“They are always available for any assistance we need whether it is with the teaching staff or the building administrators,” Hathorn said. “One requirement for a school in academic distress is to develop a 45-day plan with strategies on how to improve student achievement; the feedback from ADE was so beneficial.”

After the vote, ADE Commissioner Johnny Key remembered conversations with Pine Bluff Superintendent Robinson, saying, “there will be excellence in Pine Bluff.”

“To everyone who is here representing a district including Dr. [Connie] Hathorn at Watson Chapel, take a moment to celebrate,” Key said. “This is more than your schools getting off a list. It is about changing the dynamic for the students. I commend the school improvement team. You are an integral part.”

Arkansas Board Chairwoman Mireya Reith asked Key to confirm that 10 schools is the most the state board has removed from the academic distress list at one time. Key said he believes it is true.

“This is success in the state of Arkansas,” Reith said. “If anyone questions if there is success happening in Arkansas, point to what happened here.”

Prior to the vote, board member Diane Zook said even if the board removes schools from academic distress, the ADE will still provide the same intense level of support for the remainder of the current school year.