The interim superintendent of the Pine Bluff School District said Tuesday that one of three schools that had been on the Arkansas Department of Education academic distress list is no longer on the list.

The interim superintendent of the Pine Bluff School District said Tuesday that one of three schools that had been on the Arkansas Department of Education academic distress list is no longer on the list.


"You’re hearing it here first," T.C. Wallace Jr. said at the monthly Coffee with the Chiefs program, sponsored by Interested Citizens for Voter Registration Inc. and held at First Assembly of God Church. "We got a letter yesterday (Monday) from the department of education saying that Jack Robey Junior High has been removed from the academic distress list."


Pine Bluff High School and Belair Middle School remain on the academic distress list, he said.


Wallace was named interim superintendent in March 2015 after the district’s board of directors fired former superintendent Linda Watson. He said he had been involved in education for 47 years and been superintendent at school districts all over the country.


Regarding the district, Wallace said that it is not where it needs to be right now, but "we are heading in the right direction."


He said that when he was initially asked to come to Pine Bluff, he found a district with financial woes and three schools in academic distress.


"As an outsider, I was asked to do the heavy lifting," Wallace said, adding that the district "needed to be right-sized and fiscally responsible.


"One year they closed a number of schools and last year closed two schools, but they kept all the staff," Wallace said. "That’s been the pattern and the budget has always been out of whack. The first order of business was to right-size the district staff."


He said that meant reducing the teaching staff by 68, and central office staff by four, which generated savings of nearly $3.2 million.


"We reduced the budget and we haven’t missed a beat," Wallace said.


He said one of the biggest challenges the district faces is trying to attract and retain staff, describing the district as "a steppingstone."


To combat that, Wallace said he is insisting that when teachers sign a contract, they stay for the length of that contract before moving on. The district has also offered bonuses for hard-to-fill areas like math and foreign languages and Wallace said that in those cases, if the teacher leaves before their contract is completed, "I will let you go, but I’m going to take back my money."


The school district is currently conducting a search for a new superintendent and Wallace said he will be in place until June, "then go back to retirement."