The Watson Chapel School District has been cleared by the Arkansas Department of Education for having the appropriate racial makeup and special education student ratios.

Watson Chapel School District special education director Natasha Dunn said that five Watson Chapel School District employees took part in a conference in 2016 in reference to students being suspended, with the focus involving the ratio of black students in relation to all races of students, along with the ratio between special education students in relation to all students.

“Long story short, we were cleared as of March 16,” Dunn said. “Eight districts in the state had to go through this process, and the state department said that we were the first to clear it, which was great. We were the first to clear it but we don’t want to be in that race anymore for disproportionality.”

Dunn added: “The Positive Behavior Intervention and Support is playing a big part. This is what our district is starting to roll out. Ms. Dovie Burl, our climate specialist, is over it. We have gone and received training. We rolled it out to the teachers and will receive training over the summer. We are trying to come up with ways other than suspending kids. We are trying to curb [disruptive] behavior in another type of way.”

Fewer Watson Chapel School District students are being suspended these days than in the recent past, Dunn said. Superintendent Connie Hathorn said he is building relationships with students, which he expects to cause students to behave.

The board did not take a vote related to Dunn’s presentation at its Monday meeting.

According to the most recent statistics from the University of Arkansas’ Office for Education Policy, the Watson Chapel School District’s student population is 76 percent black, 21 percent white and 2 percent Hispanic. Special education students make up 10 percent of the student population, according to the data, which measured the 2016-17 school year.

In other news, the board voted to spend $197,701 to use the services of KLC Video Security of Texarkana, Texas. Hathorn recommended the board approve this contract. Board members Donnie Hartsfield, Mack Milner, Ronnie Reynolds, Alan Frazier, Goldie Whitaker and Sandra Boone voted for the measure. Board member Kevin Moore was absent from the meeting.

The contract states that the work will begin on June 1, 2017, and will be substantially completed by July 31, 2017.

In student news, Watson Chapel Junior High School math teacher Della Horace gave a report on her assigning students a research paper involving researching three authors and another assignment that she called a math project. She said that the students were evaluated by university professors and administrators.

For the math project, Horace said her student Aaron Wheeler explained the importance of building a birdhouse by using math and that Wheeler won the competition. Da’Naijah Turner won first place, Skylar Fallis won second place and Caylin Mack won third place.

For the research paper, Horace said her student Christopher Fountain was the overall winner. Cailen Young won first place. Pascha West won second place. Earnest Harris won third place. Jayce Neal won fourth place. Faith Lewis won fifth place. Kaitlyn Sander won sixth place.

The winners received a ride in a limousine to Chili’s restaurant; lunch with Superintendent Connie Hathorn, faculty members, parents, and sponsors; and t-shirts.

“Next year we plan to have a math club,” Horace said. “Our mission is each student who joins the math club will partner with one student every nine weeks. We plan to meet once per week.”

Its purpose is to prepare students for the I-ready and the ACT-Aspire.

Other news:

The school district director of support services John Hayden requested permission to dispose of fixed assets: reel mowers, John Deere ZTRAK Mower, John Deere Tractor 655, Clark Fork Lift, and Ariens Lawn Tractor. The board approved his request.

Watson Chapel School District teacher and personnel policies committee chairwoman Frankie Hemphill requested the board give $500 bonus to each faculty and staff employee at the end of the school year. “You see the hard work we are doing and we are working especially hard at the senior high,” Hemphill said. “We got us out of academic distress. When a person works hard, I think they should be rewarded. We are going to do more great things.” Donnie Hartsfield told Hemphill: “We will sure take that into consideration.”

Watson Chapel High School seniors will graduate at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 16, at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson will visit Watson Chapel High School at 1:30 p.m. Friday, May 12, to discuss computer coding.

In personnel news, the board approved the hiring of Susan Allbright as an elementary media specialist, Linda Davis as an elementary academic intervention specialist, James Dickerson as a secondary math teacher, Jasmetria Edwards as an elementary behavior intervention specialist, Armetra Green as a secondary math teacher, Lisa Kelley as a family consumer science teacher, Orva Lee Mayberry as a secondary academic intervention specialist and assistant boys basketball coach, Kincyl Kelly-Newsom as a special education teacher, Rebecca Newby as a secondary English teacher, Angela Sample as a secondary English teacher, Brandon Stargell as a secondary English teacher, Nashia James as a paraprofessional, Darrell Martin as a paraprofessional, Tesha Canales as a cafeteria worker, Alexa Reid as a cafeteria worker and Raquel Arvisto De Pote as a cafeteria substitute.