August 11, 2005 - Posted at 8 pm.
Jonesboro, AR - Ironically, the day Mitchell Johnson was supposed to be released from federal custody was also the day teachers returned to Westside in preparation for a new school year. They returned under a cloud of painful memories. However, administrators are guiding them toward a ray of light, shining brightly on this school's future.
Westside School Superintendant Dr. James Best is an educator and a motivator. To his teachers, he is presenting a long-term plan outlining goals and expectations for the school, teachers, and students.
KAIT-TV was the only TV station allowed inside the presentation by the school superintendent.
"We're hoping for the Air Force ROTC program and if we are awarded that in October, we will immediately go to work putting that into the schedule; getting people to fill those positions, getting the building ready, and making preparations for that," Best explained.
Beyond that, they are planning general improvements for the campus, along with new programs to get their students even more prepared for college-level courses.
Dr. Best made little mention of the school's painful history.
"I feel like my piece and my contribution is where we go from here," Best said, "that is what I focused on today. They didn't need me to bring up the past. They are well aware of what's going on. I felt like that would have been hurtful and insulting, and there was no value in doing that. The fact we are starting to grow and that fact that we are forecasted to grow is a real blessing in the way school financing is structured now. As far as test scores go, the board has made some very courageous decisions on personnel in the way they have hired people who have great expertise to do that."
Combining those elements along with the strong commitment to this school from the teachers, you have a recipe for success.
Pam Higginbittom, a teacher, said, "My goal is to make them the best they can be with what they are going to be facing in the future with the technology. We will provide to them what we can and to inspire them and get them ready for college and the workforce."
Not only has the school survived setbacks; it has risen above them. Teachers and administrators have a clear vision for the future, and working together, they'll make sure that vision never blurs.
"I firmly believe this: if you watch the Westside School District in the next five years, good things are about to happen," Best predicted.