PINE BLUFF, Ark. – The state took control of the Pine Bluff School District five years ago for financial distress and poor academic performance. Now, the district is once again in charge of its own destiny.

They presented the state board with data showing academic growth and certain criteria being met. Parents like Erika Evans are hoping these improvements will continue.

“This year is a rally cry to onward and upward,” Evans said.

Evans said she hopes the positive trend will continue.

“The board has to make difficult decisions, but to put that hard work in to make sure that whatever errors that were made in the past doesn’t occur again,” Evans said.

The district was given limited authority in the fall of 2022, allowing the district to have an appointed, not elected, school board. Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Barbaree said that was the first step in the right direction. She said that the overall goal is to make sure students are learning in the classroom.

“I think the biggest concern would be our academics, which is still a concern for many of us, but we’ve shown growth, and over the last ACT Aspire we have even a larger amount of growth,” Barbaree said.

She said the amount of growth was not as great as they had hoped for, but still encouraging.

Learning from the district’s past mistakes, Barbaree said the district is focused on the future.

“The hope would be we build a foundation that says, ‘This is how we’re going to function as a school’ so that everybody who believes in the school and the school district whether we’re here or not can continue on with that,” Barbaree said.

Barbaree said community support is vital to having the district succeed and Evans agrees.

“We’re Zebra proud, we’ve got that Zebra pride, we’re Zebra strong,” Evans said.

Barbaree said the process of getting an elected school board will begin at the next school board meeting. The first election for one seat on the board will take place in November of 2024.