Elementary school near Central Landing in early development stage

Originally published: Oct. 9, 2014 in the Log Cabin Democrat | Link to article

While speaking to the Conway Rotary Club on Thursday, Conway Public Schools Superintendent Greg Murry said a new elementary school is in the works that would coincide with the development of Central Landing.

“We have to look at when our growth would require it,” Murry said after the meeting. “I think it’s at least two years.”

Murry said the project would likely come to fruition in the next five years on property designated within the $100-million Central Landing development, which features 150 acres of mixed-use projects including retail, dining, hotels and outparcels. Central Landing is set for completion in 2016.

“We anticipate our next elementary school being built in association with the [Central] Landing development that’s being placed where the [former Conway Municipal Airport was],” he said. “We already reached a tentative agreement with the developer there for some property and so we’re looking forward to our next elementary school being there.”

The project, in its early stages, will depend on the coordination of the Central Landing project as well as factors within the school district. District rezoning would occur as a result of the new elementary school.

He also addressed developing a five-year plan that would create a framework for the future at Conway Public Schools.

“Several years ago, we developed a plan,” he said. “It’s time to review the plan. Time to update it and we’re trying to make sure we direct this district through a feasible plan of what we need to do over the next five years.”

Following the meeting, Murry declined to provide additional information regarding specific goals that could be included in the five-year plan.

As for other potential new high, junior high, middle or elementary schools within the district, Murry said he doesn’t see the need in the short term, though he said a new high school could be on the agenda in 10 years.

In discussing the current state of education, Murry mentioned Common Core, the national standard intended to create a sense of uniformity for schools across the U.S.

“Quite frankly, most of our folks are just ready to go back to teaching school and forget about the rhetoric,” he said.

Murry cited polling underwritten by children’s publisher Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that states 79 percent of teachers across the nation feel “very” or “somewhat” prepared to teach within the new Common Core standards, an increase from last year. The same YouGov survey also states that 81 percent of teachers find the state standards to be “challenging” to implement, up from 73 percent last year.

“All of those numbers, I think, are important to know in that the people impacted the most in this situation are teachers and what are they saying about it,” he said. “And I’ll tell you that as we’ve grown into this the teacher opinion has grown as well.”

After showing a photo to attendees of his 93-year-old mother with 2-year-old grandson Cooper, Murry said she couldn’t understand opposition to Common Core.

“She said, ‘Who would be dumb enough to think that’s not a good idea?’” Murry added of a recent conversation with his mother.

Murry said, at the end of the day, people believe there is too much overreach from the federal government.

According to Gallup polling conducted from May 29-June 20, 59 percent of Americans surveyed opposed Common Core standards while 33 percent favored the program and 7 percent didn’t know or refused to comment. A breakdown by political affiliation shows that 53 percent of Democrats favor Common Core, with only 17 percent of Republicans supportive of the standards. Thirty-four percent of independents favored state standards.

Results were gathered from a random telephone survey of 1,001 adults across the nation.

“The fact is that there is more rigor in the classroom today than there was five years ago,” he said. “We’ve ramped it up based on the state standards. The subject matters are harder in literacy and English.”

Murry spoke on the achievements of schools, teachers and students within the past year. He said Conway Public Schools had 9,772 students enrolled this semester, up 39 students from last year. Regarding Advanced Placement course pass rate, Murry said 58 percent of AP students passed their courses.

Following Murry’s remarks at the meeting, state Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Bigelow) asked Murry about teacher insurance and how the district is handling increased costs.

“We continue to look for solutions because it appears that our rates our going up and our coverage is going down and that’s not a good combination,” Murry said. “But our folks need it.”

Shane Broadway, director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, will speak at the next Rotary Club meeting at noon Oct. 16. Central Baptist College President Terry Kimbrow serves as the program chair for October’s education speakers.