Area superintendents report school year off to good start

Thursday, August 26, 2021
Eureka Springs seventh-grader Alaina Clayton receives her first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine from Eureka Springs Hospital nurse Amber Leibee at the school district’s open house on Aug. 12.

School is back in session across Carroll County, and despite a few hiccups, local administrators say things are going well — so far.

“We’re off to a good start,” said Berryville superintendent Owen Powell. “We’re back, we’re playing sports and the kids seem excited to be back in school.”

Powell said the number of students attending Berryville schools this year is up a bit over 2020, but was unable to provide exact numbers. At nearby Green Forest, the situation is very similar, with superintendent Matt Summers pointing to a handful of “hot grades” — kindergarten, seventh and ninth grades — that are showing the most growth.

“Growth is a good problem, but it still creates some problems for us,” Summers said. “We’re making our way through that. At this time, we’re fine. I do expect our numbers to be up significantly, but we’ll let it all shake out.”

Summers explained that there are typically changes in enrollment early on during every school year, making it hard to provide exact numbers early on.

“So, to say, hey, this is the number, I’m a little hesitant to say that, but I project we’ll be somewhere around the 1,400 mark,” Summers said. “Last year at our largest, we were like 1,369.”

At Eureka Springs, superintendent Bryan Pruitt told a similar story, saying there were 591 students on campus, not counting pre-K and virtual students.

Everyone at the school is “kind of tired,” Pruitt said, but that’s true on the first week of school every year.

“It takes a while to get used to it again,” Pruitt said. “Things seem to be falling into place and we’re excited about what’s happening. We’re glad to have our kids and staff back, and we’re all working together.”

Much like last year, the largest concern among school administrators, staff, parents and students is the COVID-19 pandemic.

At Eureka Springs, where the school board voted to reinstate its masking policy, Pruitt said one staff member has been quarantined because of the novel coronavirus.

Meanwhile, at Berryville, the Arkansas Department of Health reported Thursday that there have been 15 cases of COVID-19 since Aug. 1. As of Thursday, 13 of those were still listed as active cases. The ADH report listed no numbers for Green Forest in Thursday’s report, which means the district falls below the ADH’s reporting threshold of five cases.

Eureka Springs has received a little blowback about its mask policy, Pruitt said, but most parents seem comfortable with the mandate in place.

“We have a couple of parents that chose to do homeschool, but that’s really not unexpected because that happens anyway,” Pruitt said. “Everybody knows we’re here for the safety of students. We’ve rallied together and things are going OK.”

Pruitt said he’s been looking at the numbers of students and staff being quarantined at districts without mask mandates.

“Their quarantine and isolation numbers are bouncing up,” Pruitt said. “I think we made the right decision.”

At Berryville and Green Forest, masks are “strongly encouraged” but not required.

“We have a few close quarantines, but they’re not from school,” Summers said. “They’re from home and family members. The numbers are just really very, very low.”

Powell said his staff and students are doing their best to mindful of the pandemic, but that many are simply tired of dealing with it.

“Everybody’s concerned,” Powell said. “We’re all tired of it, but we’re doing everything we can, cleaning, social distancing and quite a few students are wearing masks.”

Pruitt said his district also implemented a virtual learning program through Edgenuity, but only a few parents signed their kids up for it.

“I’m happy they’re bringing their kids here and they trust us,” Pruitt said. “They know we’re doing our best to keep everything safe and clean and disinfected.”

The district can buy all the gadgets and programs in the world, Pruitt said, but there is no substitute for in-person learning.

“You can never replace that good, dedicated, caring, loving, motivating teacher in front of the students,” Pruitt said. “You can never replace that, and we have really good ones here. When you’ve got great teachers and they have the resources available, you’re going to be successful.”

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