Superintendent addresses state of the Bryant School District

By Martin Couch

Randy Rutherford is at home in Bryant.

"It's been an unusual road to become superintendent of a school district," said Rutherford, who just last spring[more] applied for the position and was awarded the job by the Bryant Board of Education.

Rutherford, who coached for two years at Little Rock Catholic High School, was the Little Rock Fair high school basketball coach for 11 years. He worked in administration at Pulaski Heights Junior High School for one year while coaching football and went back to Fair for three more years before getting into administration at Little Rock Central as an assistant principal for three years. He eventually was the high school principal at Fair for one year before heading to Benton to be the athletic director.

"When I was at Fair last, I made a decision that it might not have been the best situation for me, because my wife was teaching in Benton and my son was in school down here and I was having a hard time keeping up with him," Rutherford said. "I went to Benton as the athletic director and (former Bryant superintendent) Dr. (Richard) Abernathy called me later on in the spring and offered me the principal job at Bryant. I did that for three years and applied for the superintendent. I am fortunate to land where I landed."

Now Rutherford is in charge of six elementary schools, two middle schools and Bryant high school. And things are taking shape as projected.

"Obviously, the facilities are one thing you are going to see at the high school level and the main campus," he said. "The new high school is coming along. Our projected date to be in it is May of 2012, which is the 2012-13 school year and it's kind of exciting to see that work up there."

Other facility-related planning is ongoing because of the growth in the number of students attending Bryant schools.

"We did the figures and we grew some in the second semester, which is kind of unusual. Usually we drop a few students, but we are up about 40 kids from where we started," Rutherford said.

Counting the pre-kindergarten students, Bryant has a grand total of 8,030 students in the district.

"Obviously, we are still growing and we are already looking ahead for what we need to do next," Rutherford said. "In the near future we need to build a new elementary school and we are in the process of finding the right place it needs to be and to try to make sure we can relieve Bryant Elementary a little bit."

Currently, Bryant Elementary has 1,100 students on campus.

"For an elementary school, that's extremely large," he added. "At the same time, we want to build a school big enough to take some of the load off of them, but take the growth, too."

Regarding curriculum, Bryant is preparing for the "Common Core", which will begin next year with kindergarten through second grade.

"It's going to be a huge paradigm shift from what our community is used to and how the parents were taught," Rutherford said. "Not only is it going to be the students learning the skill sets, but also it’s going to let them do something project-based. It's more world-like, problem-solving and those types of things. The old days of bringing home a textbook probably are not going to be that way anymore. There are a lot of technology-based things inside the Common Core."

Arkansas is one of 48 states that will be switching to the Common Core next year. Only Texas and Alaska are not in the Common Core. Rutherford added that, later this year, Bryant's administration will be putting out information about the new curriculum to the public.

"We want to get the word out about the changes, but it's an exciting time to be a part of it and, at the same time, it's going to be a dramatic shift in what we are used to," he said.

So far, Bryant has not added any personnel but it is looking to grow in the Human Resources area and more teachers will come on board next year to cover enrollment and growth. Also this year's kindergarten registration has been moved up to mid-February, which is earlier than usual.

"Our main hope is we want to go back to our site-based schools, which are our community schools. So, for example, if you live around Salem Elementary we are trying to guarantee that those students in that area will be in that same school," he explained. "But because of the gigantic growth we have had, we've had to put quite a few kids into other elementary schools and we don't have space. You might see some portables going up on those elementary campuses because of a lack of space, but we think it is important when people go buy their houses where they are zoned, we are going to do the best we can for their kids to go to that school and keep the neighborhood schools going."

Although the challenges on the horizon for the school district are daunting, Rutherford is glad to be in a position to help the community.

"We have 8,000 in the district and we have a positive impact on them and we want to be a positive influence in their lives," he said. "But, by the same token, I feel like I can look out for their best interest in what the future holds for them. I like that aspect of this job. I like being around people and talking to them about the pros and cons of what we are doing and what changes we need to make for us to get better. I believe that you are never in a situation where it is absolutely perfect. There is always room to improve and I am looking for those areas.

"I try to lead and involve people as much as possible to make good decisions not only for the faculty members and staff, but for the kids and the people of the community itself," Rutherford said. "I do like the fact of working with the city. I think some positive things are going to happen as far as our relationship there. It takes all of us to make the city, the community and the school as good as Bryant can be."

Another of his favorite aspects of being the district's superintendent is seeing the students "light up" during the learning process.

"I am able to get out of the office some times to see a lot of that happening and see some good instruction going on," Rutherford said. "We are blessed. Here at the central office, the staff is outstanding and they make my job easier. They keep up with things and our teachers — there is no better group who cares about kids. It's exciting because we are all looking for ways to improve. Our teachers are doing that all the time and a lot of them take the initiative to do it. They see it and take care of it on their own. And our classified staff are dedicated employees — the custodians, maintenance workers, bus drivers, secretaries — you name it. I am blessed to be in a good place with good people around me."

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