August 2021


4 LEADERS 2 CITIES 1 PURPOSE BY L IBBY WHITE W ith the days of summer drawing to a close, there is an all-too familiar anticipation growing. The start of school triggers different emotions for everyone, but hopes are high for the upcoming academic year. you put in kids’ hands, but the infrastructure in the background that makes it work,” said Ronnie Thompson (LEISD). “Our district is half city, half rural, and a lot of our rural kids did not have quality connectivity at home. When your internet speed is buffering because that’s the best you can get, there are certain things you can’t participate in. For kids going through virtual education at the time, they suffered because of connectivity.”

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all said we are ready to “get back to normal.” But what is “normal?” What will the 2021-2022 school experience be like for our students and teachers? These Texarkana Superintendents explained their views of the educational excellence in our community and shared their hopes for the days ahead: Dr. Becky Kesler of Texarkana Arkansas School District (TASD), Dr. Doug Brubaker of Texarkana Independent School District (TISD), Ronnie Thompson of Liberty-Eylau Independent School District (LEISD), and Chad Pirtle of Pleasant Grove Independent School District (PGISD). Our local administrators were unified not only in their admittance of the challenges of the previous school year, but also of the strength and growth their campuses experienced along the way. “COVID affected everything,” said Chad Pirtle (PGISD), “but nothing was necessarily detrimental because of the aid provided by the state and the federal government which allowed us to purchase a large amount of technology.” Pleasant Grove used allotted funds to make upgrades in technology, adding enough devices for every student in grades three through twelve. Campuses received state and federal funds to aid during the pandemic, but it was up to each district to serve the specific needs of their unique populations. Connectivity for at-home learning was an obstacle for many public schools. “The challenge for us was not so much the devices

Despite their differing school colors, the superintendents voiced a common admiration for the resiliency of their students and staff and expressed how each district’s caring campus culture was demonstrated during the pandemic. Through that experience, their true colors were revealed. “We pride ourselves in the family atmosphere we have at TASD,” said Dr. Becky Kesler. “One of the things I was so proud of our staff this last year was that they really took ownership with our students. So many of our students chose to stay virtual instead of coming back to school, so our teachers would actually make home visits. If we felt like we were losing a student, the teacher would go to the student’s home. They would take food to the student, take a computer to them, or hot spots. They really embraced that family mentality, and I was so proud of the fact that we really tried to not let anyone fall through the cracks.” Dr. Doug Brubaker moved to TISD in January 2021. “When I was interviewing with the board, and then after I got here, it wasn’t long before people started talking about the ‘Tiger Family.’ It’s this beautiful spirit that permeates the staff and student body, where people just really take care of one another. Joining the district when


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