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soaring to new heights
Story by Audrey Hanes; photography by Amy Long

The recent addition of a new high school building, coupled with steadily increasing student enrollment, are two contributing factors that have enabled Valley View Public Schools to earn both educational and athletic recognition
statewide. As students head back to school later this month, Valley View’s new superintendent, Bryan Russell, is ready to take his place at the head of the growing school district.

Russell, who earned his bachelor’s degree in physical education
health, his master’s and specialist degrees in education leadership
and his superintendent certificate all from Arkansas State
University, was born in Pocahontas and raised in Hardy. After
graduating from A-State, he stayed in Jonesboro and spent 10 years
at Riceland Foods, eventually ending up in management.

Following his time there, Russell began his career in education. He spent nine years in Jonesboro Public Schools teaching and coaching and served as the assistant principal at Jonesboro High School for three years before becoming the Valley View Junior High principal from 2002 to 2004. After returning to the JPS
district to serve as the Jonesboro Kindergarten Center principal for four years, Russell and his wife, Tricia, spent five years in Viola while Russell was the principal of Viola High School.

The couple moved back to Jonesboro one year ago so that Russell could serve one year as assistant superintendent with the understanding that he would
replace longtime superintendent Radius Baker upon his retirement. Russell officially began his role as superintendent on July 1 and says that he is glad
to be back in Jonesboro.

“I am very happy to be back in Jonesboro near my mother and her family, as well as my daughter, who graduated from Valley View; it makes me very happy and content to be close to them,” said Russell. “It feels like I’m home here at Valley View, and I want to express appreciation to the staff for really accepting
me and welcoming me and my family back into the Valley View community. I very much appreciate their support.”

Russell says that his primary goal upon starting the 2014-2015 school year in his new superintendent role is to bond the Valley View staff together – classified, certified and administrative – to all have an understanding that the students are the true focus and that their decisions and actions should all be based on what is best for those students.

“I enjoy the level of parent involvement in Valley View schools,” said Russell of what he likes most about his job so far. “Parents are heavily invested in their children’s education here. I also enjoy working with a great group of administrators and teachers – they’re wonderful professionals that make my job a lot easier. …

“I’m also looking forward to more new growth in the student population, which creates expanding opportunities for our students. Several new programs have evolved this past year, such as the junior high EAST lab and junior high agri classes.”

In recent years, enrollment at Valley View Public Schools has continued to grow at a steady pace. For the 2013-2014 school year, the average daily student attendance was 2,625 in kindergarten through 12th grade plus 100 students in the pre-K program, up from 2,349 students during the 2010-2011 school year.

“It has become more diverse,” said Russell of the positive effects of the schools’ growth. “It has always been a strong athletic and academic school, which has not changed with the growth; if anything, the growth has enhanced both of those areas. It’s certainly added opportunities for curriculum expansion and has
created several new jobs for teachers and classified staff, as well.” Because of that yearly growth, administrators began plans for a new high school several years ago after realizing that rearranging classrooms would not allow for enough additional teaching space.

“Planning for a new high school started about three years ago,” said Russell. “They had tried different configurations to try to move students into different buildings – going from a third through seventh grade building to a seventh through ninth grade building and different configurations like that to try to utilize every possible classroom space and portable buildings, as well, but they were at total capacity in all buildings on campus, so the need was there.”

The new 121,000-square foot Valley View High School, which opened for the 2013-2014 school year, consists of 37 rooms that are used for instruction, a
gymnasium, a fine arts practice room and more. Russell said that parents, students and faculty have all responded positively to the new building, particularly the commons and cafeteria area and its unique layout, which allows for a social environment for students to gather.

“The students take great pride in the new building,” said Russell. “They took really good care of it last school year and treated it with respect. I’m really proud of them for that. … “It’s certainly something that attracts parents and students. It creates a lot of additional parking on campus. The gymnasium is a focal point, with a state-of-the-art sound system and seating for 2,500 people. The architectural design and aesthetics of the new high school give a feeling of warmth to parents and students. It’s very inviting.”

Still, despite its size and numerous amenities, the district’s growth has already exceeded the original plan of administrators. “When we first were able to inhabit the new high school, there was not a single empty classroom,” said Russell. “When they started the initial building of the high school, they anticipated
some empty classrooms for future growth, but by the time it opened, we had already put all those classrooms into use.”

The new high school allowed the rest of the district’s grades to be distributed among the existing buildings, allowing for much needed classroom space for other grades. The additional building allowed for ninth grade to be configured back into a junior high setting, with seventh through ninth grades being housed together as opposed to a middle school type setting; those grades are now
in the old high school. Third through sixth grades are also together in two intermediate buildings joined by a common multipurpose building. Kindergarten through second grade make up the elementary building. Russell says the district is also going to move pre-K out for the upcoming 2014-2015 school year and put them in the third through fourth grade building due to so much growth
at the kindergarten through second grade level.

“The growth has so many positive benefits to it, but we are in a position where we’re looking at building again not too far down the road,” said Russell.

The superintendent says that the future building will most likely be either a first and second grade building or a kindergarten and first grade building – something that allows the district to reconfigure the primary grades.

“We keep a finite number of pre-K students – we only accept 100 into the program – but with kindergarten, first and second grades, naturally we don’t have a cap on them, and they’re growing each year,” said Russell. “Each class now has more than 200 students per grade.”

Valley View Public Schools are not the only area schools experiencing steady growth because of the growth of the city of Jonesboro, which Russell says is a positive for the entire community.

“The growth of Jonesboro in general has affected all the area schools,” he said. “At the beginning of this school year, almost every school in the area reported student growth, which is a really good thing for the community and our city.

“It has affected Valley View Schools in a very positive way. We continue to be a school district that when families research the area and the schools here, we’re one of the first they want to visit and look into, and we’re really proud of that fact. We’ve been recognized statewide for the past several years as being one of the top performing schools in the state academically, and last year, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette … named us in the top five athletically performing high schools in the state. We were the only one in the top 10 that was below 6A.”

For more information about Valley View Public Schools, go to
valleyviewschools.net.