The superintendent of the Van Buren School District has received a one-year extension on his contract.

Members of the school board voted Feb. 14 to extend Dr. Harold Jeffcoat’s contract through July 30, 2020, at his currently salary of $165,000 a year.

Jeffcoat took over as school district superintendent July 1, 2015, after serving as deputy superintendent in Cabot since 2012.

Since then, his stated goal has been to focus on the future for the success of the students in the Van Buren School District.

When Jeffcoat arrived in Van Buren, the district was designated by the Arkansas Department of Education as being in the “early intervention for fiscal distress.”

“By November of my first year, ADE was pleased with our financial progress and formally removed us from the list,” Jeffcoat said. “We have made significant improvements to our finances by focusing on efficiency and eliminating unnecessary expenses. These improvements will prove to benefit us for years to come.”

The district has worked to improve its technology capacity with a major overhaul of its wireless infrastructure.

“Additionally, we more than doubled our Internet speed by upgrading to ultra-high speed Internet,” Jeffcoat said. “We also have added more than $500,000 worth of technology devices to the district just this school year.”

Van Buren School District has allocated resources to improve its transportation department by securing several new buses. Over the course of two years, the district has added 13 new buses to its aging fleet.

“We have redesigned and launched a website that greatly improves our ability to ‘tell our story’ through a variety of social media platforms,” Jeffcoat said. “The site is very clean and user friendly.”

He said the district is successfully implementing a new testing system that will allow VBSD to hone in on areas that will help it inform and improve instruction for its students.

“We have dedicated many hours to updating old policies to ensure alignment with current legislation,” Jeffcoat said.

ADE has recognized VBSD as a “health and wellness” district.

“This will advance and improve the quality our school district and community in a variety of ways,” Jeffcoat said. “We were able to secure $120,000 in Joint Use Agreement Grant money for improvements that focus on community health and wellness (tracks, walking trails and exercise equipment).”

For these projects, the district has partnered with the City of Van Buren and Crawford County.

Along the lines of health and wellness, the district has instituted staff wellness events (bowling, volleyball, kickball) which encourage healthy lifestyles through competition.

The events are entertaining, encourage healthy lifestyles and are a fun boost to morale, Jeffcoat said.

“We began a program in some of our elementary schools called FoodCorps with hopes to expand to all K-5 schools in the future,” he said. “This program is also part of our health and wellness focus and provides a hands-on education in gardening and healthy living.”

The district has expanded its concurrent credit offerings in secondary by introducing courses tied to Arkansas Tech University, University of Arkansas - Fort Smith and Virtual Arkansas.

Beginning this year, the district implemented a plan that offers a program of study allowing Van Buren students the opportunity to graduate high school with an associate’s degree through ATU.

Also this year, the district partnered with UAFS to offer a program of study at VBHS that provides students industry-level certification in the areas of robotics and computer science.

“This year, we have placed great emphasis on the advancement of learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) related areas for K-8 students through programs such as Project Lead the Way,” Jeffcoat said.

The district been approved by ADE to be the first school in Arkansas to offer virtual learning in all grades, K-12. The River Valley Virtual Academy will open in August and has a capacity of 325 students.

Jeffcoat said the district has increased its web presence through the use of social media, which has allowed VBSD’s success to become more recognized throughout the state.

“We have submitted our district’s facilities master plan and partnership application and have been approved for improvements throughout the district totaling nearly $30 million,” Jeffcoat said. “We are awaiting notification from the state on partnership funds, which will be in May of this year.”

The district conducted a successful millage campaign where nearly 70 percent of those who voted supported continued improvements to facilities, transportation fleet, technology upgrades and improvements to salary schedules.

Also, the district has hired a professional chef and is currently researching best practices in food service departments throughout the state to consider possibilities for improvements in terms of kitchen resources/equipment and food offerings.

Throughout the district, VBSD has purchased new custodial equipment to ensure cleanliness and consistency in quality, the superintendent said.

“We initiated IMPACT and are organizing resources in our community to meet the basic food needs of our students and families,” Jeffcoat said. “Thousands of meals and millions of calories have been distributed in less than a year of operation.”

This successful operation has a tremendous amount of support in the community and holds the annual father-daughter dance fundraiser, he said.