The embattled Little Rock School District ceremonially started work on a new high school in southwest Little Rock Monday.
Students from J.A. Fair High School and McClellan High School used shovels to break ground on what will become the first new high school for the district in more than a half century.
The two existing high schools, as well as four other schools in the district were identified as being under “academic distress” by the State Board of Education in 2014, which took control of the district the following year.
Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said the new school is an opportunity for the district to move forward from the controversial takeover.
“All the challenges that we’ve had in the past, the discussions, some strident and some not-so-strident, need to be put aside so that we can make sure that our students can excel,” Stodola said, “and this is going to be a great opportunity, not just for the school district, but for the city of Little Rock as well.”
The district’s recent woes include a recent failed millage election, and a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination. Amiya Mardis, currently a sophomore at McClellan High, shared her thoughts during the event on a new start.
“Two schools that are constantly being put down every day will change for the better. We will have new students, faculty, and a chance to start over. Southwest High will guarantee a new starts to rise above our reputations. There are too many intelligent students being defined as something they’re not just because of the school they attend. We are all more than what anyone else may think of us,” Mardis said.
As part of the ceremony the new school’s mascot was unveiled. The lions of McClellan High School Lions and the War Eagles of J.A. Fair High School will become gryphons once the new school is complete. According to district representatives, neither of the two existing schools will close as a result of the new construction, but boundary lines will be redrawn.