Pine Bluff School District Superintendent Jennifer Barbaree spent this week visiting three local schools discussing the district’s future with stakeholders – parents, educators and even students.

On Tuesday, Barbaree met with the Pine Bluff High School PTO. She appeared Wednesday at Robert F. Morehead Middle School. She wrapped up her listening tour Thursday night at Jack Robey Junior High.

Barbaree is making the rounds to assure teachers, parents and students that the transition of uniting the Pine Bluff and Dollarway schools may not be perfect initially, but ultimately, the unification will make the school district stronger, safer and stable for teachers and students.

The informational visits also give parents who may be unsure about the district’s future a chance to ask Barbaree questions on any topic from block scheduling and bussing to a millage increase and healthier lunch options.

For the district to progress, Barbaree said a millage is inevitable to build a new high school.

The current plan is to build a new school on the current site of Pine Bluff High School. Pine Bluff citizens feel a long history with the site that sits near downtown. That sense of community is important to link the legacy of past with the vision of the future.

Dollarway and Pine Bluff have two differing millages, currently with Pine Bluff’s at 41.7 and Dollarway’s at 40.1, Barbaree said. The numbers need to be uniformed for the district to flourish and unite as one.

After the meeting, Barbaree spoke to Deltaplex about the need for a millage.

One immediate problem facing the school district is a shortage of bus drivers.

The district plans to have 10 new buses by the start of the 2023-24 school year bought with “covid money,” Barbaree said. Even with a fleet of new buses, drivers are desperately needed. Barbaree said that the salary for a bus driver in the district starts at about $23,000 for five hours of work a day.

Barbaree gave more details about the bus driver shortage.

One vision Barbaree has for the future of every child in the district is to graduate with way to succeed in the future whether it is attending a university or junior college, learning a trade that eventually leads to employment or having job placement after graduation.

That’s why the district has paired with Central Maloney to teach students how to become welders while still in high school. Students who participate in the Central Maloney project can start to work at the company immediately after graduation making $20 an hour.

Barbaree plans to visit with more students and parents until the end of school to seek ideas and input and ask about their vision for transforming Pine Bluff into a model of modern education.