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Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 159 schools across Arkansas are celebrating their achievements in performance and growth.

The Arkansas Department of Education is awarding a total of $6.87 million through the Arkansas School Recognition Program. Schools in the Benton, Little Rock, and Pulaski County Special School District are among the schools recognized. Awards are given for being in the top 10% of high student test scores in grades 3-10, and the top 10% in student growth, including high school graduation rates when applicable.

The awards are based on assessment results from the 2020-2021 school year and graduation rates from the 2019-2020 school year.

According to ADE, funds can be used for faculty and staff bonuses, educational equipment, and materials or personnel to improve or maintain student performance. Schools receiving recognition funds are required to establish a committee comprised of a principal, teacher, and parent to determine how the funds will be used.

A total of 49 schools qualified for the top 5% in the performance and growth categories, both eligible to receive $100/student in funding. 52 Arkansas public schools qualified for the top 6-10% in performance, eligible to receive $50/student in funding.

In the Benton School District, Perrin Elementary School received $28,200 for being in the top 6-10% in performance. Benton High School received $61,200 for being in the top 6-10% in growth/gradation.

“It really is a true testament to how great our teachers are, and to all the schools on that list,” district spokesperson Isabella Bradley said. “That money that we receive, showing the growth of our students, we can put directly back into our students and ensure that the growth continues, and the learning continues for the next few years.”

In the Little Rock School District, Don Roberts Elementary earned $100,600 for being in the top 5% in performance, and $50,300 for being in the top 6-10% in growth.

“The recognition is definitely exciting,” principal Steven Helmick said. “We expand our committee to a lot more people. This is just not a teacher celebration, this is students celebration, a community celebration.”

Forest Park Elementary was also recognized in the top 5% in growth and performance, receiving $38,100 for both awards. Jefferson Elementary also earned $34,700 for being in the top 5% in performance.

“The benefit too, is that parents can see that a lot of good is happening with our school district, and I think that only more things are going to come out of that too,” Helmick said.

For Pulaski County, both Baker and Chenal Elementary Schools were recognized for performance and growth, receiving a combined total of $142,000.

“It made us feel really special because the work has been hard during the pandemic,” Deputy superintendent Dr. Alesia Smith said. “Talk about what's the vision of the school? What do we need? What do teachers want for their hard work?”