With a new school year underway, faculty, staff and students in the Pine Bluff School District are seeing new changes in and outside of the classroom. Jeremy Owoh, superintendent of Pine Bluff School District detailed those new developments to the crowd at Coffee with the Chiefs, sponsored by Interested Citizens for Voter Registration Tuesday at First United Methodist Church.

“When I started here in Sept. 2018, we kind of tackled a lot of the issues the school district was facing with six systems of support,” Owoh said. “The first system was academics. In Sept. 2018, the district was placed in fiscal distress and shortly thereafter —- a month later—- the district was placed on level five in need of intensive support, which is because of the academic status of the school district and the schools.”

The state Board of Education dissolved the school board and took over the school district after determining it was in fiscal distress. Monica McMurry, interim superintendent at the time, was removed and Owoh was appointed to his current position.

“What the team and I did, along with the partnership with the state Department of Education was conduct a curriculum audit of Pre-K all the way to the high school to really see where we are,” he said. “And of course, what we found was that there was not a consistent curriculum across the district.”

Owoh says the faculty started the 2019-2020 school year with a new curriculum for all grade levels that will be enforced.

“From our Pre-K centers all the way to our high school, there’s an instructional model for content, instructional practices and professional learning that all of our teachers and all of our administrators must follow, so that we have that consistency across the district,” he said. “(It’s) so that we know that our students are getting the support that they need, because our teachers and administrator are receiving that support.”

During the event, members of the Pine Bluff Fire Department were honored with service awards for their work earlier in the month during a water rescue. Chief Shauwn Howell says they are in the process of acquiring a rescue boat especially with the historic flooding issues the area has experienced in the past.

“We do not have a boat for the city,” he said. “We are currently seeking grant opportunities and seeking funding. Traditionally, we always relied on the county for assistance, but times have changed and we must adjust to those times.”

Pine Bluff Police Department police chief Kevin Sergeant was absent. But, deputy chief Kevin Hadley provided attendees with an update on ongoing investigations within the department.

“There are some great things that are happening in our community that I can only vaguely speak about without compromising the investigation or jeopardizing the safety of the officers…,” he said. “I will say that in a one-month period there have been 18 cases that have been cited that will be prosecuted federally.”

Hadley also encouraged residents to speak out about the crime in their community to help law enforcement combat the problems.

“Let’s serve our own summons and let’s put these criminals on notice and let them know they cannot dictate when and where we come out of our own house,” he said. “You cannot dictate where we go to grocery shop (and) you cannot dictate when and where we go to church.”

He also reminded people about the power in sticking together.

“I’m a firm believer in ‘united we stand, divided we fall’, because there’s been too much bloodshed and too many lives lost for the people who stood up and fought for our rights,” he said. “To this community, you are our two e’s—- our eyes and ears for law enforcement and the fire department and we are the two r’s. We respond and we react.”