The Pine Bluff chapter of the NAACP held an education forum Thursday evening at Bethany Chapel Missionary Baptist Church to engage in conversation about school consolidation with local teachers, parents and other residents concerning the recent state takeover of the Pine Bluff School District earlier that day.

This is the second such meeting the NAACP has had on the consolidation issue.

Chapter President Ivan Whitfield opened the floor of the organization’s monthly meeting to guests who had suggestions or thoughts on the NAACP’s decision to step in and help after the state declared that the PBSD is in a state of fiscal distress. The State Board of Education will meet again in October to discuss the struggling academics at PBSD and could declare the district as being in academic distress.

Whitfield said that it was not the organization’s goal to take over the education system; however, he said that it was important that the conversation be heard so that steps can be taken to improve the state of education in the city.

Charles Girly questioned how consolidating the schools will help resolve the issue, to which Whitfield replied that the curriculum was the main focus of finding a solution.

According to Whitfield, proper solutions can be presented once an assessment of the problem is complete.

“We have three districts, and they’re all failing,” Whitfield said. “At least we’re creating a dialogue on it, which is a start … We’re open to new ideas.”

Ronnie Reynolds, a member of the Watson Chapel School Board, said that he thought of the consolidation as “everyone coming together as one big family.”

“Consolidation is a process, but if we don’t start now, when?” Reynolds added. “If we don’t come together, we’re going to die out.”

Reynolds said that some schools could barely make payroll, and he wanted to see something happen soon.

“Together we stand, united we fall,” Reynolds said before taking his seat.

Dollarway Superintendent Barbara Warren, whose district is also under state control for fiscal distress, took issue with a recent news release published by The Commercial on behalf of the NAACP regarding Thursday night’s meeting and the ongoing topic of school consolidation.

The statement “Every superintendent agreed that for the betterment of the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County community that all schools, including White Hall, needed to be under one umbrella,” is not true, Warren wrote in an email to The Commercial.

“You see, I am not convinced that consolidation or merging the districts is the answer to the challenges and concerns that we face in education within our community. I have been very verbal about that. While I applaud the efforts of the Pine Bluff Chapter of the NAACP and the many community members who are committed to finding solutions to address our education crisis, as both the superintendent of the Dollarway School District and a lifelong resident of Pine Bluff, I do not support the measure of consolidation or merging of our districts at this time. I welcome additional information, data, and discussion on this matter, and I am praying that we all seek the necessary wisdom and guidance to do the right thing for the sake of our children.”

The focus switched to parent involvement when another guest at Thursday’s meeting, Earl Armstrong, asked how to get the attention of parents nowadays.

“The kids come to school, and they dog the teachers out,” Armstrong said. “Can we compete with Conway and Fayetteville?”

Whitfield said that it was a matter that the community must pray on because there is a lack of discipline. Some of this is the fault of parents, the other half he credits to the system, he said.

According to Whitfield, there is a disconnect between the difference of abuse and discipline, which can directly affect children who need to be properly disciplined. What may be perceived as discipline in one’s home may translate as abuse elsewhere. Thus, parents looking to avoid trouble will count out reprimanding their children altogether, Whitfield said.

Efrem Elliott followed up with remarks concerning his “on-the-fence” stance on the situation.

Elliott said that the community is just “spinning the wheels” if they do not invest in youths and provide them with programs to allow them to succeed.

A math teacher, K. Briggs, spoke on the problem that schools have when parents transfer their students and how it negatively affects the PBSD.

According to Briggs, when a parent decides to take their child out of the Pine Bluff School District and send them to, say, White Hall, the school they’re leaving will lose the funding for that student and it will be sent to the other school.

Briggs also pointed out that she fails to believe that such a large number of students in the district cannot read.

Testing methods, especially timed, computer exams, are issues Briggs said need to be addressed. Briggs said that she noticed students are unable to perform well when placed under extreme time limits or are forced to work a computer that they may not have at home.

After a statement from Whitfield suggesting that children hold some of the blame for the lack of academic success due to behavioral issues, teacher Dolores Robinson Lavell said that isn’t the case.

Lavell said that the organization and others involved must look at the culture, and how today’s youth are unaware of their history. This, according to Lavell, is a motivating factor in students wanting to learn and is one thing that is lacking in the schools’ curriculum.

When presented with books about the story of the Little Rock Nine, Lavell said she noticed students’ interest heighten after discovering things about their culture that they didn’t know. Although it was not required to complete the book during a summer program she taught, a few went on to complete the book out of curiosity and will.

Even though the conversation had to come to a close for time’s sake, Whitfield encouraged guests and NAACP members to spread the word and get everyone involved when it comes to finding alternatives to consolidating.