Jewelette Courtney, chairperson of the Pine Bluff School District Classified Personnel Policy Committee, has asked the Pine Bluff School Board to grant a bonus to classified employees.

Courtney requested a bonus of $1,000 apiece — after taxes — be given to Pine Bluff School District full-time classified employees and a bonus of $500 apiece — after taxes — be given to district part-time employees. She spoke at a Tuesday night meeting.

“In previous years we were given a reduced bonus or none at all because of the district’s finances,” Courtney said. “We feel with the implementation of (reduction in force) and outsourcing of classified employees, which purpose was to be a savings for the district and thanks to the present administration, it appears it worked.”

The board did not take action on Courtney’s request.

In other news, the board voted 5-2 to reject a resolution to consider starting the school year before Aug. 14. Board members Herman Horace, Andrea Roaf-Little, Lakishia Hill, Marinda Williams and Harold Jackson voted no; board members Henry Dabner and Aaron Branscomb voted yes.

In Freedom School news, Superintendent Michael Robinson gave an update on a pilot program that started in summer 2017 with an enrollment of 120 at-risk students. The district expanded the Freedom Schools Initiative in October in response to students achieving success in the program. This initiative’s mission is to prevent students from forgetting instruction during the summer and to close the achievement gap.

“Our scholars did exceptionally well in that program,” Robinson said. “The scholars were pre- and post-tested in their instructional reading abilities and various attitudes toward learning, self and civic engagement. Parents were also surveyed. The data was very impressive. Our scholars increased in their reading grade levels one year and two months in their instructional reading levels during just a six-week program. … We hope to see even greater gains this year. Our kids are learning to read.”

Robinson credited Zach Lewis, the district instructional technology and innovation specialist, and the interns for supporting Freedom Schools.

The district will begin a leadership academy in January 2018 to help beginning administrators to “support their needs and to provide them with continuous growth opportunities,” Robinson said.

In parental involvements news, Robinson said he mailed a reminder letter to parents to emphasize that educators serve “all our scholars” and that “we want them to be successful. But there are some things that they are going to have to do to support what is happening in the classrooms. They are going to have to partner with us. From what I’ve understood, parents have already reached out to the school.”

Robinson said struggling students should not expect to retake a course in summer school because summer school might not be offered.

In other news, the board voted 6-1 to hold school board elections in May rather than in November. Branscomb opposed this measure.

As the Pine Bluff High School Zebras football team is heading to the state championship game, Robinson recommended Pine Bluff High School have an early dismissal on Friday, Dec. 1, at 1:30 p.m. and the elementary schools release students at 1:45 p.m. The board approved these early dismissal times.

The Zebras will play Greenwood High School on Friday, Dec. 1, at 7 p.m. at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium. Pre-sale tickets can be purchased at Pine Bluff High School’s Dunaway Field House. Student tickets cost $6 and adult tickets cost $7.