PBSD board talks Robey campus preparation for temporary high school

Jack Robey Junior High School is pictured in this May 2, 2023, file photo. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)
Jack Robey Junior High School is pictured in this May 2, 2023, file photo. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)

The old Jack Robey Junior High School campus will be converted into a temporary Pine Bluff High School in time for an early start to the 2024-25 school year, Superintendent Jennifer Barbaree said Monday night.

Pine Bluff School District board trustees agreed to let Barbaree request bids for each job to prepare the shuttered campus on Olive Street to reopen to sophomores through seniors when the first extended school year begins July 31. Most buildings at the present high school on West 11th Avenue will be torn down to make way for a new campus to open by August 2026.

The board approved a July-to-June class calendar earlier this month, making the PBSD the first district in Jefferson County to use a year-round format.

"I will say our adjusted calendar proves to be a little bit of a pinch because our kids start on July 31 rather than August, so that moves that timeline up," Barbaree said. "That's why it was very important we go ahead and put it out for bid now. My hope is that we start the clean-up and the fix for Jack Robey by spring break so we can have it ready."

Jack Robey was the feeder school to Pine Bluff High from its 1986 opening to last May, when it closed due to the district's mergers of the secondary campuses. Barbaree announced last March that Jack Robey would close in favor of converting Dollarway High School into the Ninth Grade Academy and Robert F. Morehead Middle School into the seventh- and eighth-grade wing of Pine Bluff Junior High School in order to reduce the number of campuses open to keep the district fiscally solvent. Those campuses, located across from each other on Fluker Avenue, are newer than Jack Robey and did not require a roof repair needed at Robey, Barbaree has stated.

Star Academy

Two eighth-grade students, along with social studies teacher Yulanda Lassiter, spoke on their early success with the Star Academy curriculum implemented this semester at PBJHS.

Eighty eighth-graders were selected for the curriculum based on academic performance and attendance data, according to Lassiter. The students take 75-minute class periods instead of block scheduling, and they gain an understanding of each lesson and develop an interest in their studies through a computer platform, she explained.

"It absolutely helps with their study skills," said Lassiter, one of four core-course teachers in the Star Academy. "It helps them to build their reading and comprehension skills. It gives them tools to navigate through the platform because it's all set in modules. The way the modules are set, you can individualize them. You can teach them as a whole to the class. You can break them down, whichever way you see fit as the facilitator."

The Star Academy platform was installed when the students returned from winter break last month. Barbaree said teachers are working through training specifics and finding opportunities to grow through the program.

"It has a proven track record. We just have to get it where we need it to be," Lassiter said.

Annual report

Barbaree also offered an annual report to the public Monday night.

As of the end of the 2022-23 school year, the district ranked 35th in state enrollment with 3,108. That was a drop from 3,576 in 2021-22, the first year after the Dollarway School District was annexed into the PBSD.

The average salary for K-12 teachers was $49,126. That will increase as a result of the passage of the LEARNS Act last year, which required districts to offer at least $50,000 to each teacher.

There were 518 contracted employees. District enrollment included 2,762 Black students (or 88.87% of the population), 95 white, 46 Hispanic or Latino and 8 Asian. More than 100 students qualified for the National Honor Society with a grade-point average of 3.5 or higher, and the ACT composite score of 14.7 was lower than the state average of 18.2.

The PBSD had an ending balance of $16,431,242.53.

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