VILONIA — In a leap of faith, Vilonia Primary School principal Brian Ratliff has announced to school district officials that he will be leaving at the end of the school year to serve in a church ministry.

Ratliff officially tendered his resignation Monday night to the Board of Education. Dr. Frank Mitchell, superintendent, said he would not be making a recommendation on Ratliff’s replacement until a later date. Ratliff, Mitchell said, will be sorely missed. He also praised him for a job well done during his tenure.

Ratliff has accepted a job as director of children’s ministries at Antioch Baptist Church in Conway, where he has attended services for 35 years. Ratliff plans to finish out his contract, which expires in June, before stepping down. Until three weeks ago, Ratliff said, he had planned to remain as principal at the primary school until his retirement which, he said, should have been several more years. His plans changed, he added, when his pastor talked with him about accepting the new position.

“I am going to miss working at the primary,” Ratliff said. “I love working there. It’s a dream job, but I’m not in a habit of arguing with God. I believe this is what I’m meant to do now.”

On another note, weather was a major source of discussion throughout the meeting. Several options were tossed around concerning make up days including Saturday school and a decrease in the number of spring break days. Most appeared to be in  agreement the best option is to add the days on at the end of the year.

“The only this is to add it on the end,” Danny Lawrence, board president, said. “We never know how many more we are going to have before it is over.”

The students have currently missed five days, Mitchell noted. As of now, he said, the last day of school for students is June 7.

Steve Hensley, transportation director, reported on bus routes during the last “snow event.” Six buses ended up stuck Thursday morning, two Thursday afternoon and two Friday morning. He also said there were eight roads that were impassable Thursday. He estimated about 100 children were unable to make it to school Thursday.

“In the 21 years that I’ve been here, there was only one other time we had snow like this,” Hensley said.

It was said that make up days will be added to the end of the year.

In a related matter, there was discussion concerning the school’s fleet of vehicles and the daily wear and tear. The buses, Hensley said, are doing well “for the shape they are in.” On the other hand, the maintenance department, he said, has been trying to “make do” for eight years “with the state of the economy” concerning the replacement of support vehicles. 

On his recommendation, the board approved the purchase of a couple of drop in engines for maintenance vehicles, two used Jeeps and a used pick-up truck.

The two Jeeps are 2000 model Cherokees, one with 85,000 miles and the other with 92,000 miles, coming from the state purchasing department for a total of $6,200. While no price was set, officials said they will begin the search for a used 4-wheel drive pickup with low mileage at a reasonable price. 

“Try to be aggressive in finding a pickup,” Lawrence said.

In other matters, the board:

• Approved the purchase of four smart boards from Video Reality costing $17,274.32 with funding from Eagles’ Landing, an after school care program. The smart boards will be used at the primary school. 

• Approved the purchase of 180 graphing calculators to be used at Vilonia Middle School for $11,248.

• Approved the purchase of 2,640 cases of copy paper from American Paper and Twine for $70,016.10. 

• Approved a school choice application involving a Mount Vernon kindergartner.

• There was also a lengthy discussion involving a recent study on grade inflations in Arkansas schools.

“The study was misleading in some cases,” Mitchell told the board. “For example, one small school district only had three students who made an A or a B in the course. This represented a small percentage of the total taking the test. However, two of the three did not score proficient  or advanced and the district had a grade inflation of 66.67 percent.”

Mitchell suggested work begin on a district policy regarding making exams a part of the course grades. The benefit of making such a policy, Mitchell told the board, is to ensure that graduates aren’t penalized in applying for scholarships on the basis of grade inflation.

The study, Mitchell explained, is centered on end-of-course exams in Algebra I and geometry. Grade inflation was determined by the percentage of students who made A’s and B’s but did not make proficient or advanced on the exams.

Mitchell said the Vilonia District rate was just over 12 percent.

“We looked into the reasons for this percentage,” he said. “We had 13 students out of 105 who made A’s or B’s that did not score proficient or advanced. We found that a majority of the 13 was in a group that had taken part of a course over. But, we have not determined exactly why the course grades were high.”

There is a way, he told the board, to prevent the district from getting into a grade inflation situation.

“The remedy would be to make the end-of-course exams a part of the course grade to the extent that a student could not receive a grade of A or B unless they scored at proficient or advanced level,” Mitchell said. “This actually makes sense in that the exam specifically measures what students should learn from the course.”

Scoring proficient or advanced on exams could also be a way of raising students’ grades in a course, Mitchell offered. Points could be added to a student’s grade based upon good test scores.

“Without some type of adjustments, teachers may tend to give students lower grades for fear of inflating grades,” Mitchell said.

No action was taken at the meeting but officials gave the nod for Mitchell to pursue the proposal.

• The board also approved some classified employees policies. Discussing some of the policy changes, it was said while there are no specifics mentioned, the  employee dress policy now reads that “nothing will be distracting.”

There could be consequences for an employee who has garnished wages two or more times.

The policy spells out that bus drivers must pull over and stop to use a cellular phone. As well, the parking brake must be engaged on the bus.

• Approved a fundraiser for the trap shooting club. The club was approved to solicit donations on the chance of winning a couple of shotguns.

• Approved funding the greenhouse and plant sales program at the school with $1,650.