Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington’s second town hall meeting Monday night focused on summer programs by Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation and the Police Department, workforce training and her efforts to make the area around the civic center look more beautiful with the addition of plants and flowers.
Held at the Pine Bluff Convention Center, Washington also talked about the long-awaited aquatic center, renovations to the Merrill Center and a campaign to clean up the city.
Trudy Redus, the interim director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said a number of things are being planned, including a five-week program for young people that will replace the summer youth program, which was formerly held at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and has been canceled.
Redus said the program will begin in June and for the first three weeks will be held at the Chester Hynes Community Center, where young people will participate in volleyball, basketball and other sports. After a week off for the Fourth of July holiday, she said the final two weeks will be at the recently renovated Bloom Tennis Center, where the tennis coach at UAPB will conduct clinics.
In addition, baseball at the Northern League, which plays at Townsend Park, begins April 27. Redus said that league will be hosting a tournament with eight to 10 teams from around the state participating.
A girls softball tournament will take place at Regional Park on May 5, and already 19 teams have signed up.
Redus said Wednesday is National Walk at Work Day, sponsored by Blue Cross, and she is hoping for better weather this year since rains the last two years have washed out the event. The current forecast calls for rain Wednesday.
Asked by a member of the audience, Redus said the Farmers Market will open on the first Saturday in June.
Following Redus was Deputy Police Chief Shirley Warrior, who talked about the department’s annual P.A.Y. (Police and Youth) camp — a six-week program that begins in June and annually attracts more than 200 kids ranging in age from 6 to 16.
“There are a lot of summer programs, and every one of them is done by people who care,” Warrior said. “We started ours to develop a good relationship with the kids.”
She said the camp will run from 7:30 am. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, and in addition to fun activities, there will be field trips and educational blocks on subjects like bullying and discipline.
“We want to make a difference in kids’ lives, and we believe that by the time these kids grow up, they will have learned enough respect not to break into their neighbor’s house,” she said. “It’s a great program and a great vision.”
The cost of the camp is $125; registration is currently underway with a May 8 deadline.
Next up was Eddie Thomas from Arkansas Workforce Services, who explained a new program geared to developing skilled workers in Southeast Arkansas. The program, called ACT Work Ready Community, has been endorsed by the governor and will help prepare those young people who don’t go to college with work skills.
“Employers want skilled labor but people they’re getting are not skilled,” Thomas said.
Thomas also discussed the National Career Readiness Certificates, which employers like Evergreen Packaging are requiring for new employees.
“They’re recognized throughout the nation so if you go somewhere else to work, they are accepted,” Thomas said, adding that people interested in obtaining more information should contact the Workforce Services Office, which is across the street from the convention center.
When Washington took the microphone, the first thing she talked about was the recently-announced scores schools in Pine Bluff received from the State Education Department.
In addition to the “F” rating given to Pine Bluff High School, Broadmoor Elementary, Southwood Elementary and Thirty-Fourth Street Elementary in the Pine Bluff School District were also given “F’s.”
Jack Robey and Belair middle schools both received “D” ratings, along with W.T. Cheney Elementary.
In the Dollarway School District, Dollarway High School received an “F” rating, along with Matthews Elementary and Robert F. Moorehead Middle School.
In the Watson Chapel School District, Watson Chapel High School, Watson Chapel Junior High School, Coleman Elementary and Edgewood Elementary all scored a “D.” L.L. Owen Elementary scored an “F.”
“We’ve been working very closely with the Educational Alliance and we want out scores to go up,” the mayor said. “We’ve been planning and will be putting some things in place all summer. We don’t want the same letter grades in the spring of 2019 that we had in the spring of 2018.”
Washington also talked about the aquatic center, showing diagrams of what the facility will look like. she said the city is currently in the process of securing a grant writer to seek grants for swimming instructors. Groundbreaking for the facility is set for 11 a.m. on May 4.
“There’s not a lot of money for buildings but there is money for programming,” she said.
The next Town Hall meeting will be at 6 p.m. on May 29.