Dollarway High School Principal Jeff Spaletta said he expects to improve students’ performance by setting high standards of accountability and fostering a culture of success.

Dollarway High School Principal Jeff Spaletta said he expects to improve students’ performance by setting high standards of accountability and fostering a culture of success.

The Dollarway School Board hired Spaletta on May 28 to be the permanent principal at Dollarway High School. Spaletta succeeded then-interim Principal Gabriel Jackson, who replaced then-Principal Arnold Robertson, who resigned on Feb. 27 and became Quest Middle School’s new director of campus.

Spaletta said he accepted Dollarway’s offer instead of two other schools’ offers of employment.

"I felt I could make the most impact at Dollarway," Spaletta said.

Spaletta was most recently the kindergarten to 12th-grade principal of the Hughes School District in St. Francis County, Arkansas. The Hughes School District has now been consolidated into West Memphis School District because Hughes dropped below 350 students.

An educator of 15 years, Spaletta said he has interviewed a total of 50 people to fill 11 or 12 positions. He will make recommendations to the Dollarway Board at a regular meeting scheduled for Tuesday, July 14. These positions are vacant because Dollarway employees resigned to take jobs at other school districts, he said.

"I think we are going to have quality people coming in here, being strong and changing the culture here," Spaletta said. "I’ve tried to build relationships with teachers here. I think they are dedicated; there are three other schools in town where they could make more money."

Spaletta said he also put together a leadership team.

"I think communication is a problem among employees," Spaletta said. "I made sure everyone is accountable."

Spaletta lamented Hughes’ consolidation because of its impact on students. He said he helped to increase Hughes’ parent participation by 5 percent to 45 percent and that students were improving on tests.

"My passion is working with kids," Spaletta said. "That was really tough for the community, knowing some of those small kids will be bused. I learned a lot about Hughes by holding the school together. A lot of us had to do multiple jobs because the school downsized a lot. We worked really hard and had a lot of success at turning the school around. … Our test scores improved. Our math scores improved by 30 percent this past year."

A native of Eureka, California, Spaletta moved to Arkansas 22 years ago. He earned a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education fitness from Arkansas State University, a master’s degree in kinesiology and exercise science from ASU and a master’s degree in educational leadership and administration from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

"I grew up wanting to be a coach in Texas and thought Arkansas is close [to Texas]," Spaletta said. "I thought I would go to school in Arkansas for two years and go back home."

Before Hughes, Spaletta taught social studies in the Earle School District and has also been a coach of football, basketball, baseball and softball in several districts. He said he will not coach in Dollarway, but will enjoy cheering on their teams.

The Dollarway School District is in academic distress for a fifth straight year. The Arkansas Department of Education defines academic distress as a school that has fewer than 49.5 percent of students who score proficient or advanced in math or literacy.

Dollarway School District Superintendent Patsy Hughey is also calling for students and employees to set higher standards, take responsibility and communicate. Hughey made these comments at a June 30 meeting in reference to Dollarway students failing to meet state standards on the end-of-course tests.

Hughey provided figures on the percentage of Dollarway students who scored proficient or advanced on the end-of-course exam. These figures are an average of 2011-2012, 2012-2013 and 2013-2014. Dollarway had 42.3 percent of students score proficient or advanced in algebra and geometry, 32.2 percent in literacy and 8.3 percent in biology.

In light of these scores, Spaletta said he agrees with Hughey on setting personal accountability, instilling discipline, raising standards and following through on commitments.

Spaletta is on a contract through June 30, 2017.

He said he has already seen positive changes at Dollarway in the short time he has been there. A home economics room that was damaged in a December 2014 fire has been restored and is ready to be used, Spaletta said.