After two years of planning and winning state approval, Southeast Arkansas Preparatory School kicked off its inaugural school year Friday with a ribbon cutting in the school's gym.

The Chamber of Commerce Red Coats joined Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington, Board President Pat Hart and school officials in cutting the ribbon for the city's first public charter high school.

School Superintendent Dedrick Sims said the school is not competing with the other public schools in the city but instead is offering an alternative.

“You're making history,” Sims told the students. “Your names will be etched in stone because you started Southeast Arkansas Preparatory.”

According to the program, the mission of Southeast Arkansas Preparatory High School is “to develop scholars prepared to take the next step in their educational journeys through innovative, equitable, collaborative and authentic experiences that develop critical thinking relative to today's global economy.”

Located at the site of the former Ridgway Christian School and before that St. Joseph's Catholic School on West 73rd Avenue, Southeast Arkansas Prep serves students grades 9 to 12 in the Pine Bluff area.

Washington also spoke after the ribbon cutting and said she entered the race for mayor to rebuild Pine Bluff and to do that, high quality schools are essential. She said the ribbon cutting marking the official opening begins a new page in the history books.

To the students, Washington said, “Continue to tell yourselves I am a serious child with serious goals and if it takes hard work to reach those goals I will do it.”

Principal Alexander Noguerola said the school will challenge work with the community to help students advance, and already has worked out an internship with Jefferson Regional Medical Center as a part of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curriculum.

The school mascot will be the Warriors, and Sims said that every six weeks, a Warrior Award ceremony will be held to honor student performance.

After the program, tours of the campus and classrooms were offered.

On Thursday, the state's Charter Authorizing Panel denied another charter school proposed by Sims: The Sims-Fayola International Academy for up to 200 boys in grades five through eight within the Pine Bluff School District.

A similar school operated by Sims in Colorado closed after just three years, which the panel said caused some concern.

They suggested to Sims that he have a successful first year with Southeast Arkansas Prep, then return again with the proposal to open another school.