UPDATE APR 20, 2021
Paron residents met Monday night in the cafetorium of the area’s former school – a school that they hope to get open again.
It’s one highway, a whole lot of trees, and not much of anything else on the way to Paron, Arkansas, from in town. A long, curvy, hilly ride that children take on a bus each weekday, over 40 minutes each way, just to get an education. This story is about students who were forced out of the school that served their community for decades. This story is about rural residents who want their school back.
- In 2006, many small schools were mandated by the State of Arkansas to consolidate with other schools. As a result, Paron became part of the Bryant School District. The high school closed and kids either went to Bryant High School or used the school choice option to attend elsewhere. Many went to Perryville.
- In 2015, Bryant set a millage election to a vote in a special election, and after it failed, the district was forced to make cuts, and operations of the school in Paron was part of that. So the younger students in Paron would now ride miles and miles to the nearest elementary school or middle school.
- In 2016, community residents in the unincorporated community of Paron decided to try to get their school reopened as a charter school. They made a hard run for it, and went before the Arkansas Department of Education to argue their case. The State said the petitioners hearts were in the right place, but ultimately, they lacked what they needed to run a charter school.
- Now in 2021, there is a small group that wants to try again for a charter school.
The last time Diesell Covey attended class as a Paron Lion, he was a first grader. Now age 13 and in the 7th grade at Perryville Schools about 40 minutes away, he is rallying his community for support in the effort. He has spoken twice in the last couple of weeks – the “voice in the wilderness” as a local man described it – asking adults to help kids to be able to go to school again in their own community. Covey stated at the previous meeting that he feels like he’s playing basketball for the wrong team and he wants to wear a Paron Lion jersey.
Covey approached the Community Center Board on April 6th to ask for permission to use the property – that is, if the Arkansas Department of Education eventually allows the group to form a charter school. Board members voted to allow it, then Board President Curt Malone charged those in attendance to go out and gather support from the community.
And so they did gather support. At that first meeting, they just had 5 or 6 people in favor of the idea, but at the second one, on April 19, 2021, over 50 people showed up to get closer to the goal.
Candy Webb, a Paron resident and Youth Network Coordinator for the Rural Community Alliance, led the meeting, giving some background and explaining the next steps. Over the course of an hour, she and Jamie Mullins and Curt Malone answered questions and formed committees from the attendees. Webb and Mullins, along with others, had been at the helm of the mission to start a charter school in 2016.
The committees formed were:
- those who would help with the application process,
- those who would survey households to find which parents would commit to having their children attend this school if it was approved,
- and an auxiliary group of those who would be a pool of people available to help out whenever there is a need from one of the two committees.
- There is one other school in Imboden, Arkansas, like the one Paron residents are proposing. Plans are to study and learn from their model.
- Webb stated that Arkansas Technical University (ATU) in Russellville has a program that recruits teachers for small communities, so that finding them wouldn’t be a problem.
- Students from anywhere else in the state could choose to attend this school if the goal is achieved to reopen it.
- The grades it will serve depend on the survey results and commitment from parents/guardians to have their children attend.
- A few local legislators, Sen. Bill Sample (R), Rep. Richard McGrew (R), and Rep. Keith Brooks (R), were due to be at the meeting Monday night, but were unable, due to a late legislative session. However, each one sent their regrets and pledged support for the goal. See the previous meeting notes and video below.
PREVIOUSLY APR 7, 2021
A 7th grade student went before a community officials Tuesday night leading an effort to possibly reopen Paron School.
Diesell Covey, age 13 of Paron, made a presentation to the Paron Community Board, requesting use of the community center for a charter school, if the State Board of Education will allow them to operate a school there. The building previously served as a school for all grades. The state consolidated Paron into the Bryant School District and closed the high school in 2006. Then in 2015, the Bryant School District closed the remaining younger grades. Read more about that in the previous article below.
Covey spoke about his wishes to go to school in his own community, stating that when he plays basketball, he feels he’s playing for the wrong team. He attends Perryville Schools, a former opponent to the Paron Lions team. Covey stated that he previously enjoyed more individual instruction when he attended school at Paron, and he really wished that he could wear a Lions jersey. After some short discussion, the board voted in favor of using the building if the state approved it. Board member Curt Malone urged residents to gather support in the community for opening the school, especially people who would be willing to organize efforts and connect with the right people to get it done.
The Board then discussed current financials. This included whether they should resume holding bingo nights, and voted to do so. They voted to pay the pest control contract.
They discussed ways to raise funding for the building maintenance and improvements, such as renting the building for special events like weddings, day classes, flea markets, etc.
They then talked about the need for the Saline County Library to serve the area more, possibly with a bookmobile, as well as the upcoming vaccine clinic on Friday April 9th, and then they adjourned.
The next meeting of the Paron Community Board is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. May 4th (the first Tuesdays).
EARLIER ARTICLES ON THIS TOPIC:
- Aug 23, 2016 – Paron Community Fight for Charter School Not Over, But They Need Residents’ Help
- Jul 18, 2016 – Paron Community Endeavors Toward Operating a Charter School
- Apr 11, 2016 – Six Bryant Schools to Receive Recognition Funds – Including the Now-Closed Paron Elementary
- Mar 10, 2015 – Bryant School District Releases Statement Regarding Failed Millage Election
- Apr 10, 2015 – Paron Elementary School Looks at Closing Doors
- Apr 21, 2015 – What It Means That Bryant School Board Will Close Paron Elementary
- Apr 23, 2015 – Bryant Schools Gives More Detail on Closing Paron Elementary & Other Budget Cuts