by Max Brantley
Noticed the advertising by the Pulaski County Special School District lately? Times intern Maggie Searcy has a report:
The Pulaski County Special School District is running newspaper and television ads anchored by the slogan “Better Scores. Greater Stability," which a spokesman for the promotional effort says is not aimed at the neighboring Little Rock district.
“It is time to let the people know the accomplishments of Pulaski County School District,” said Craig Douglass, a Little Rock public relations consultant hired to develop the campaign.
The ads target parents who are undecided about where to enroll their children or who are new to the area and unfamiliar with the district, he said. The district, he added, is especially interested in reaching people thinking about private schools or home schooling.
The print piece declares, “Join us and learn more about how your child can benefit from better test scores and greater District stability for education excellence.” Most of the ad is devoted to information about how to register.
The television ad displays slides showing test scores from math and literacy exams. The accompanying script reads: “There are three public school districts in Pulaski County. Recently released test scores are one way to compare districts and choose the one best for your child. And when you do, you’ll see that students in the Pulaski County Special School District outscore Little Rock and North Little Rock.”
Douglass said the ad references the 2007 Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the Benchmark exams. “The bottom line is that in 19 separate test scores in elementary and middle school, Pulaski County Special School District outscored Little Rock and North Little Rock School Districts in 16 categories, tied in one, and was outscored in two,” Douglass said.
Gwen Williams, president of the Pulaski County Special School District School Board, also said the ads were not intended to bash anyone or cause any disruption.
“We are all working together and we are all in it to benefit the children,” she said.
And, observed Little Rock School Board member Melanie Fox, “I don’t think the ad is intentionally aimed at the Little Rock School District, but it is to promote their district.” (Amid much acrimony, a divided Little Rock board recently voted 4-3 to buy out the contract of its superintendent, Roy Brooks.)
Speaking to stability in the county district, Douglass credited James Sharpe, hired as permanent superintendent in February 2006, after holding the job on an interim basis for three months. A year later, the state Board of Education removed county schools from a list of fiscally distressed districts.
“The Pulaski County Special School District was placed in fiscal distress in spring 2005 because at that point it had a projected negative balance of more than $5 million,” Department of Education spokeswoman Julie Thompson said. “The state board approved removal of the district from fiscal distress status at its February 2007 meeting.”
Superintendent Sharpe, who would not take Times' calls about the ad campaign, authorized the expenditures, Douglass said. The district is spending $50,000 from its communications budget on the TV ads.
PS: You must live in the district to attend Pulaski County schools, unless you are black and live in a majority black district -- such as Little Rock or North Little Rock. Then you may apply to participate in the majority-to-minority transfer program that 's a product of settlement of the desegregation lawsuit. Pulaski County is majority white. A note for number-crunchers: Using the state benchmark tests last year (2006), you'll see that both districts fell below the state average in every category between grades 3-8. Break down the results by race and you'll find that, at every grade level, white students in Little Rock scored higher than white students in Pulaski County in both math and reading scores, but black students in Pulaski County scored higher than black students in Little Rock in most, but not all categories. Because black students lag behind white counterparts on standardized tests nationwide, it's not particularly surprising that the average score of a majority white district would exceed that of a majority black district.
One example: 8th Grade literacy, percent scoring proficient or advanced:
Blacks statewide 44
Whites statewide 73
Blacks LR 47
Whites LR 85
Blacks Pulaski 49.5
Whites Pulaski 68.8