A milestone was celebrated Wednesday in the construction of the Little Rock Southwest High School. Officials with the Little Rock School District held a topping-out ceremony, which is a rite traditionally observed by builders when the last steel beam is placed on top of a structure.
The school, slated to open in 2020, will combine the student populations of J.A. Fair and McClellan high schools. Superintendent Michael Poore says the new faculty will help keep the district competitive.
"The bigger deal is we've had people leave this community for 10 to 20 years and go to the suburbs, to Bryant and Benton and Cabot and Conway," he explained. "That's the bigger reality of loss of students than charter schools even. The bigger deal is how do we compete agaisnt some of those suburban neighbors as well as the charters."
Poore also acknowledged there has been a trust factor concerning construction of the school.
"There's been a perception issue that we're never gonna do this," he said. "This is something a board made a decision about many, many years ago and said they bought this land and wanted to have a high school. It took four or five years to actually make it a reality, but we've got it happening now and that's exciting."
Former superintendent and current Little Rock mayoral candidate Baker Kurrus noted the project starting during his tenure.
"I signed the documents that began the process of designing this school," Kurrus said. "It was something the board had already approved and wanted to do. I've worked with a marvelous team of people to put it in motion and it's the team that gets all the credit."
Little Rock Southwest High will be the public school district’s first new high school in over 50 years. Students from both combining schools were present at the ceremony. The freshman class president at J.A. Fair, Amari Doss, said she and her classmates are looking forward to the change.
"Students are excited about being able to socialize with new peers about the new building and space," Doss said. "Southwest High School means a bigger campus, new colors, a new mascot, and new technology. I believe this will lead us to a new mindset. I look forward to being a part of the first graduating class of Southwest High School in 2021."
The junior class president of McClelan High School, Amiya Mardis, called it a new start.
"It means becoming whatever and whoever you want to be. This is a moment to cherish because you don't see a new school being built everyday," she said. "Little Rock Southwest High represents a bond, a time to come together and be a part of something bigger."
Mardis also said her fellow McClellan classmates are looking forward to innovative techonolgies, a wider scope of course options, state of art facilities, a variety of electives to choose from, and a bigger diversity of students and faculuty.
"This school is a building block to revamp and rebuild the southwest community," she said. "The merging of our schools will demonstrate that we will not only get along well in social settings with each other, but will also strive in the academic enviorment."
Superintendent Poore echoed Mardis' sentiment saying, "our kids in the southwest deserve this. Kids in Little Rock deserve this. I hope this is going to be a thing that builds confidence that what we say we're going to do we actually do."
The grand opening of the new school is set for May 2020.