The De Queen School District, which will celebrate the opening of the new De Queen High School this fall, is ready for the start of a new school year, one that will be quite different than any other in the district’s long history.
According to Superintendent Jason Sanders, the district will see a list of new faces as well as familiar faces in new positions as it kicks off the 2020-21 school year, which begins Aug. 24. Lance Pinkerton has been promoted to athletic director/assistant superintendent; Amy Barker has been promoted to primary assistant principal; Brandon Lindly is the new middle school principal; Phylicia Chesshir has joined high school special ed; Ethan Crocker is the new head baseball coach/assistant football/P.E. teacher; Nick Evans is the football offensive coordinator and a social studies teacher; Shyann Jacobs is a junior high science teacher; Logan Lindly has been named the junior high boys basketball coach and middle school history teacher; and Katherine Craig is the assistant band director.
In another bold move, Beau McCastlain has been promoted to district communications director/television production instructor.
“He’s been a tremendous asset and he has a background in media,” said Sanders. “He’s able to get important information out to parents and the community.”
The district has also brought in Brad Chesshir, who has taken over as the Leopards head football coach and assistant athletic director.
“He’s done a tremendous job,” Sanders said about Chesshir’s getting practices started despite the hurdles the covid-19 pandemic has created for high school sports.
“We welcome them to the Leopard family,” Sanders said. “We welcome them to the Leopard team. Once a Leopard, you’re always a Leopard.”
Sanders said that he hoped the community would understand that this is a unique school year and he asked that they be patient as district faculty and staff are doing the best they can as circumstances change almost daily.
“I can’t say enough about the teachers and the positive attitude they have,” Sanders said. “I can’t say enough how I appreciate them.”
Sanders said that a lot of planning has gone into the new school year and that the planning has been non-stop since schools were shut down during spring break last year.
“We’ve planned for every conceivable situation,” Sanders said. “I’ve done more planning in the last six months than I have in the last 10 years as an administrator. Plans have been changing all the time and things can change very quickly.”
He said that the district is proud in that it has secured personal protection equipment for faculty, staff and students to keep everyone safe, and that it has acquired hydrostatic foggers, which will electro-magnetically sanitize the school facilities on a daily basis.
Sanders was also proud of his district being one of very few in the state to have it’s own medical clinic, the Leopard Care Clinic, which will be overseen by the local medical offices of Dr. Randy Walker and offer medical services to students as well as district employees.
The clinic will have two nurse practitioners on board, one that will serve solely to respond to covid-19 issues; and the other to oversee all other medical issues.
Students don’t have to use the clinic if they have another health care provider, but the clinic, which is located on-campus, will make it easier for students to see a medical practitioner without having to leave the grounds and without having to wait for an appointment.
“Kids can be seen immediately,” Sanders said. “We are one of a few schools across Arkansas that will have our own health clinic.”
Sanders was also proud to note that the district is the only one in the state to have a covid-19 rapid test machine dedicated just for use at the school.
“I don’t know of any other school in the state that has it’s own rapid test machine on campus solely to take care of it’s students and staff,” Sanders said. “We’re ready to take care of staff and students. We’re very proud and it’s a blessing to have these options available to us.”
The district also has a plan in the event the Arkansas Department of Education should order the closure of schools. While unprepared in the spring to switch to online learning after the governor’s office shut down the state’s schools, Sanders said that the district has made a lot of preparations since last spring. As part of that plan, the district has acquired mobile hotspots, which will be deployed geographically where they can reach the most students in remote locations such as Lockesburg and Gillham.
He said that a survey the district did found that 80 percent of its students were able to access the internet at home or at the home of a relative. For those unable to connect, the district’s plan is to fire up the mobile hot spots, which have a range of several hundred feet, on school buses stationed in parking lots and other locations students can access.
Sanders also urged local service clubs, churches and community groups to get involved and get students involved in their groups by providing internet access through their facilities or by whatever means they have available to them to students struggling with access.
“This is an all hands on deck approach,” Sanders said, noting that it was a far from perfect solution but then, it wasn’t possible to put a hotspot in the hands of every student. “We’d love to have that help,” he said.
Sanders said that many parents want an option to sending their children to school during a pandemic and that the district will provide that as well, offering 100 percent virtual school to parents that request it. All they need to do is call the principal of their child’s school and their wish will be enacted.
Sanders said that the district is in the process of spending $19 million in facility improvements since last year, with $17 million having been spent. He said that the high school construction came in $315,000 under budget and that savings will be utilized on expanding the junior high cafeteria, building a new junior high science lab, as well as a TV production lab among other projects scheduled. Some funds were also used to demolish part of the old high school, which had been ordered by the state.
“We’re taking the savings and using it to fund other district facilities,” Sanders said, noting that they had already put new roofs on some of the district’s facilities and that they had repaired damaged areas of the parking lot adding three inches of asphalt and sealcoating it.
“We’ve been busy, man,” Sanders said about the district’s summer schedule.
Finally, Sanders asked that parents that can drive their children to school, to do so in order that students that don’t have that option, can better social distance themselves taking the bus to school.
“If people have options, help us to better social distance for those that don’t have an option,” he said. “We’re going to be very flexible about students being late — we just want them there. We plan to be very patient and understanding this school year.”