Horatio School District Superintendent Lee Smith.

Students at Horatio Schools need to be ready to work when school starts on Aug. 13, as there will be a strong focus on academics this year, according to Horatio School Superintendent Lee Smith, who begins his fifth year heading up the district. Smith said the district’s principals have been working with their leadership teams identifying building needs, prepping for in-service days and focusing on the academic goals for the upcoming year. 

“This year we just want to have school,” he said, noting that there were no major initiatives planned. “We’re working on our academics — we’ve made some great strides there.”

Smith said that they are in the second year of implementing the High Reliability Schools program, which is based on the High Reliability Schools textbook, a template for academic improvement that was sent to all Arkansas schools.

 Last year, while at Level 1 of the program, the district assessed where they were at and began the process of building a “Safe, Supportive and Collaborative Culture” within the district confines. This year the district will take the next of five steps, “Effective Teaching in the Classroom.” 

“We have been focusing on transparency and bottom up communication,” Smith said, noting that the district received “high marks” for its success in creating a safe and collaborative culture. 

“That’s the foundation for everything,” Smith said. “With what we built last year, we feel confident we can accomplish Level 2 and the higher levels.”

Smith said that while academic scores in the high school remained somewhat flat, which was the case with most Arkansas schools last year, the district’s elementary schools performed very well

“Elementary has really come on and made some great gains and we expect the high school to do the same as those students begin to attend,” he said. “These students have gone through the curriculum and the high school will begin to see the fruits of their labors.”

He said that the district is offering a lot more opportunities for its students and has equipped each one with an iPad, which has brought down expenses that were once spent on textbooks and paper. 

“We’ve increased engagement,” he said. 

A drone program the district began offering almost had it first students earning their FCC licenses except that at the time of testing they didn’t have proper IDs, which created Homeland Security issues. 

“We have to work on that,” Smith said. “They’re continuing to go through the curriculum and learning the program.” 

Last year they began offering computer coding classes and were one of 17 schools to win Arkansas’s All-Region Coding Competition. They also have an e-sports online gaming team that competes against other schools online. 

This year the district is starting an Alternative Learning Environment program for kindergarten through 6th grade students that  haven’t learned to cope well in the regular classroom.

“It gives them special support and structures to overcome issues they may have, emotional or disciplinary, while still learning,” Smith said. “We get them prepared to go back to the regular classroom as soon as possible.”

The program will be housed in the old elementary school building. Smith said the district, as have many districts, was seeing a higher number of young students that start school with severe emotional needs, social maladjustment and extreme behavior problems.

“We plan to use a kind and effective, proven approach, such as cognitive therapies and a sensory room to help students resolve their issues and get back into the regular classroom as soon as possible,” he said, noting that the district will have two mental health professionals in the district as well as trained staff.

The district has also added armed staff, with four additional pesonnel that are armed and trained as reserve sheriff deputies.

“We increased our security by adding access control systems and we’ll continue to do that as funding becomes available,” he said. 

As the school year approaches, Smith noted the hard work of principals, faculty, staff — and even students all preparing for the start of school. 

“The football team is practicing, the band is practicing and basketball workouts are going on,” he said. 

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