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Straight Talk by Baker Kurrus, May 10, 2016

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"Listen to your heart.  Let it guide you."

Hello Straight Talkers.

Yesterday I briefly posted a column which had some very personal reflections, including some about my mother.  After consulting with my editorial board (my wife and kids), I decided to pull it down, for now.  My son said he loved the stories, but that the tone was not in keeping with previous things found in this space.  He said, “I think you should thank everyone for the support and encourage them to continue putting energy and excitement into the schools after you’re gone.  You said recently in a press conference that you liked competition, and that was refreshing to me.  If everyone continues to work hard and continues to prove that LR schools perform just as well or better than the other schools, the people that want the best for their kids will want their kids to go to the LRSD.”

Thanks to all who are ignoring the distractions and focusing on the classroom.  Thanks to all who have worked so hard to get our students ready for their standardized tests.  Thanks to all who have administered all of these tests, and given so much in the last year.

My son is right.  We have the best schools, and I love competition.  We are winning.  We have room to get better, and we are moving in the right directions.  The superintendency is not the key to the success of the district.  The people in schools provide the stability, trust and competence that parents seek with respect to the educations of their children.

Picture of students honored at City Hall Erica Braswell of Hall, Isha (pronounced “Eye-sha”) Horton of Parkview, and Natalie Amos of McClellan, baker Kurrus, Marvin Burton, Dr. Booth

I just got back from Little Rock City Hall.  The city board honored three brilliant young women from LRSD, Erica Braswell of Hall, Isha (pronounced “Eye-sha”) Horton of Parkview, and Natalie Amos of McClellan.  Erica is both a Gates Millennium Scholar and a Dell Scholar.  Isha is a Gates Millennium Scholar.  Natalie is a Dell Scholar.  These young women are incredible people, in addition to being gifted students.

Proposed 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant Submission

The Little Rock School District (LRSD) intends to submit 21st Century Community Learning Center applications for Dunbar Magnet Middle School and Mabelvale Middle School. The 21st Century grant seeks to establish out-of-school programming, such as after school and summer programs, for the school and surrounding community. The deadline is May 19, 2016. Volunteers and community partners are welcome. For more information contact either of the following LRSD staff members:

Central High 9th Grader to Compete at  GENIUS Olympiad 

Pollution. Overcrowding. Global Warming. Environmental deterioration is knocking at the door of millions of people world-wide. While many ignore the knock, Little Rock Central High Ninth Grader Meghana Bollimpalli is among the high school students from around the world answering the call for change at the GENIUS Olympiad. As a result of her work, she has been named a finalist among thousands of applicants and will compete at the GENIUS Olympiad beginning June 13, 2016.

LRCH's Williams & Woods Finish Second, Make History

Picture of Central senior debaters Darrin Williams and Payton Woods After unprecedented success since September, Little Rock Central senior debaters Darrin Williams and Payton Woods have again made history. Williams and Woods placed second to Highland Park (MN) Bannister and Dill at the 2016 Tournament of Champions (TOC). Payton Woods snagged the coveted Top Speaker award in a field of 160 individual speakers. Williams placed 17th in this highly competitive field.

They are the first African American team to compete in the final round of the TOC in the tournament's 45-year history. Woods is only the third African American to win Top Speaker. They are the first team in Arkansas history to have ever competed in the elimination rounds of the TOC, and only the third Arkansas team to ever compete at the tournament.

Williams and Woods descended on Lexington, KY this weekend with one goal: to make it to the final round. The Tournament of Champions (TOC) has for many decades been the most prestigious national championship in the country for high school debate. Long considered the Kentucky Derby of policy debate, the TOC draws the most elite competition from around the country, where competitors must first survive the rigors of qualifying to the tournament throughout the season. Williams and Woods finished with a 5-2 record in prelims, securing themselves a spot in the Octafinal Round (top 16 teams), defeating Hendrickson WW on a 3-0 decision. Their Quarterfinal matchup was Rowland Hall GL, the second seed in the tournament and a favorite to win the TOC. After a hard-fought debate, Williams and Woods emerged victorious to face Peninsula TW in the Semifinal Round. After an hour of deliberation, Williams and Woods were announced as the team advancing to the Final Round of the TOC.

LRSD Continues to Provide Power Snacks

Supper meals, better known in Little Rock Schools as  “Power Snacks" are still being offered at the school sites listed below immediately after school.  The At Risk After School Meal Program is offered to anyone who is 18 years of age or younger.  This program is sponsored by the USDA, and administered by the Department of Human Service’s At Risk After School Programs.  Each program is open to the public and meal service is offered immediately after school in each cafeteria.  For group participation, please call the LRSD’s Child Nutrition Department at (501) 447-2450.  Participants who are not enrolled in Little Rock School District must enter the facility through the principal’s office.  Menus for the At Risk Program are posted on the Child Nutrition website of LRSD.

Otter Creek Educator Named LRSD Teacher of the Year

           Picture of Special Education Teacher Emma Mateo from Otter Creek Elementary celebrating as she is named the 2016 Marian G. Lacey Educator of the Year
                                               Emma Mateo, 2016 LRSD Teacher of the Year

Special Education Teacher Emma Mateo, Otter Creek Elementary, was named  2016 Marian G. Lacey Educator of the Year for the Little Rock School District during the annual Crystal Awards Gala Monday night at the Statehouse Convention Center, attended by nearly 700 guests.  Picture of April Rike, and Wanda Keith, Yvonne Bolden posing with Baker Kurrus and Marvin BurtonLevel winners for 2016 include:  April Rike, Williams Magnet Elementary School; Yvonne Bolden, Horace Mann Magnet Middle School; and Wanda Keith, McClellan High School.  These outstanding educators along with another 63 school-level winners were honored Monday night.   

These teachers, deemed the best of the best,  were selected by their peers to represent their schools at the campus level.  Level winners, representing elementary, middle and high school teachers, completed a rigorous application process and were ultimately chosen by a panel of judges.  The overall LRSD Teacher of the Year is named from among this group, earning the prestigious Marian G. Lacey Educator of the Year Award.

(In photos to the left, April Rike, Elementary Teacher of the Year and Wanda Keith, High School Teacher of the Year - above, and Yvonne Bolden, Middle School Teacher of the Year - below)

As the overall LRSD Teacher of the Year, Mateo will now have the opportunity to compete at the state level.  In the past two years, the LRSD Teacher of the Year has been selected as a regional Teacher of the Year finalist.

LRSD Boasts Two of Three 2016 Dell Scholars Named in Arkansas

A proverb says that good luck doesn’t come in pairs, but don't tell that to two lucky LRSD Dell Scholars, named this year. 

Picture of Erica Braswell and Natalie AmosSenior Erica Braswell is Hall High AVID’s first Dell Scholarship recipient!  Natalie Amos, McClellan High School, is the district’s second recipient. Amazingly, these young ladies are two of only three 2016 Dell recipients in the entire state.

As Dell Scholars, they will each receive a scholarship of $5,000 per year for four years, a Dell laptop, and a Dell mentor.  Braswell will be attending Baylor University in the fall, while Amos plans to attend the University of Central Arkansas. 

Ladies, your LRSD family is extremely proud of you!


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