Jefferson County school districts are preparing their buildings for students to return to class on Monday, Aug. 14.

Dollarway Superintendent Barbara Warren met with her employees Monday at the Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas and discussed the upcoming academic year. She said themes of the convocation centered on educating the whole child with a goal of increasing the graduating rate.

“As superintendent, I am working to develop the snapshot of the district and to set the tone for the year,” Warren said. “We are going to make a more concerted effort to increase our stakeholder engagement and to celebrate among our community.”

She shared her district leadership goals: to improve the culture, to improve students attendance and teacher attendance and to foster community. She is also making sure the facilities are in order, from painting walls, repairing facilities, and maintaining the heating and air conditioning.

The Dollarway School District is being overseen by the Arkansas Department of Education. Appointed to her current post in December 2015 by the Arkansas Board of Education, Warren took the reigns when the state dissolved Dollarway's board of directors because the district was struggling fiscally and academically. Dollarway has been in academic distress since 2010, as fewer than 49.5 percent of students have scored at a proficient or advanced level in math or literacy.

Warren said she is being challenged to implement programs with fidelity, to implement the intended curriculum, to focus on culture and climate, and to focus on involving stakeholders. Warren discussed teaching in accordance with the Arkansas Department of Education standards. She said some teachers are not teaching according to those standards.

“If you are not careful, they may not be teaching those standards with fidelity,” Warren said. “You may have children who are not necessarily where they need to be. You may not be exposing them to standards at your grade level.”

“We have an expectation that our teachers learn more about the standards and that we support them using all the curriculum aides and instructional supports. We are going to be very deliberate in what we teach.”

The Watson Chapel School District, the Pine Bluff School District and the White Hall School District are also getting ready for the upcoming school year. Watson Chapel employees took part in professional development on Monday. The Pine Bluff School District will be hosting food tastings at noon on Thursday, Aug. 10, at Pine Bluff High School and Jack Robey Junior High School as part of its new partnership with Chartwells K12 food services.

“Chartwells K12 food services company and the Pine Bluff School District are collaborating to create healthy scholars today and healthy communities for a lifetime,” a news release from Chartwells K12 said. “Chef King will be teaching our scholars about making wise choices about food and exposing them to healthy alternatives. It is an exciting time for the scholars of the Pine Bluff school district and their partner Chartwells K12. When scholars enter the doors on Aug. 14 they will walk into newly revamped cafeterias and new menu choices.”

Using input from student surveys, tastings and everyday lunchroom conversations, the Chartwells K12 chefs and dietitians collaborated with staff in the Pine Bluff School District to spice up the school's menus with a wide variety of healthy food options and bold new flavors, the news release said.