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story.lead_photo.caption Painters work on an accent wall Monday inside Bentonville West High School in Centerton. - Photo by Jason Ivester

CENTERTON — Administrators, teachers and students said excitement about the Bentonville School District’s West High School is growing as construction nears completion.

Photo by Jason Ivester
Jonathon Guthrie (left), principal, and Jeremy Yates, assistant principal, describe the media room in the library April 4 during a tour of Bentonville West High School in Centerton.
Photo by Jason Ivester
Construction continues April 4 on Bentonville West High School in Centerton.
Photo by NWA Democrat-Gazette/CHRIS SWINDLE
A map showing the new Bentonville School District’s West High School.

Christy Gore, an English teacher, is one of dozens of Bentonville High School staff members transferring to West High for its opening this fall.

About the principal

Jonathon Guthrie, principal of Bentonville’s West High School, was principal of Lincoln Junior High School from 2010 to 2015. He previously served as an assistant principal at Washington Junior High School in Bentonville and at a middle school in Mauldin, S.C., for a combined 10 years. Guthrie began his career as a math teacher in South Carolina in 1994, according to his resume.

Source: Staff report

“I can’t even tell you how excited everybody is,” Gore said.

“The staff we have going over there is top-notch. We’re just ready to get that started. We’re ready for August to be here.”

West High will significantly ease the enrollment burden on Bentonville High, the biggest high school in Arkansas with more than 4,300 students.

Gore sought a transfer to West High in part because she lives in Centerton, but also because of the school’s smaller size.

“I love the idea of knowing most of the people there. It’s just an impossibility with the scale we’re at now (at Bentonville High),” she said.

West High is scheduled to open in August with about 1,200 students in grades nine through 11. It will have a capacity of 2,250 students.

Construction is 85 percent complete, according to Patrick Horath of Flintco, the firm managing the project.

Maddy McConnell, 16, is a sophomore at Bentonville High.

McConnell had the option of staying at her school because her mother works for the district, and at first she thought she would take that option, she said.

She ultimately decided to switch to West High, however, because she thinks she’ll have better chances to get involved in school activities and leadership positions. She’s interested in starting some clubs, such as Student to Student Mentors, where older students mentor ninth-graders.

McConnell already joined the Student Advisory Board, a group of about 60 students who are providing input to administrators on school decisions.

“I thought it was a good opportunity to show my leadership skills,” McConnell said. “I think the students going to West are getting more excited now that we have this board.”

Jonathon Guthrie, West High’s principal, said the advisory board members are “pumped” about the new school.

“They’ve had great ideas, things we don’t think about,” Guthrie said. “And it gives us a chance to bounce ideas off them, too. We keep telling them our key words are involvement and engagement, and what’s neat is I’ve gotten emails over the weekend from kids making suggestions.”

Guthrie’s main responsibilities are overseeing staffing and making sure facility needs are met. The administration’s biggest challenge in preparing for West High’s opening is transitioning from the big picture to the minute details, he said. That includes making sure every piece of furniture is in place and every student’s schedule is correct.

Jeremy Yates, assistant principal, is coordinating the work on student schedules.

“We’ve got all the student schedule requests in, and now making it all fall to where they can get what they need on their schedules is a challenge,” Yates said. “Because when we hire a coach, that can change their course load, and so that will change the schedule.”

Whereas Bentonville High offers multiple sections of many classes, West High’s smaller size means fewer sections and therefore less flexibility in the schedule, Yates said.

A parent-teacher organization is forming. Sheri Martin, who moved to Bentonville with her family last summer from Connecticut, has assumed the group’s presidency.

“I sent Mr. Guthrie an email saying I’m here to help,” Martin said, explaining how she got involved. “My name got passed around.”

The organization’s board is meeting about once a month. Martin has a volunteer list of about 80 names, but the membership drive probably won’t start until August, she said.

“We’re getting ideas together and strategies together,” Martin said. “Right now we’re doing all of the background work for when we begin the membership drive. There’s a lot of work and preparation to get ready.”

Martin and her husband have two children, one of whom will be a freshman at West High this fall. They used to live in Austin, Texas, where Martin was involved in the opening of Vandergrift High School. That school has been successful because of the extraordinary parent involvement, she said.

“Every single parent was a part of that school. So when we heard Bentonville West was going to be opening up, I wanted to be part of that here,” Martin said.

West High’s mascot is the wolverine. The school’s logo of a snarling wolverine is popping up increasingly on T-shirts and bumper stickers across the district.

Last semester, Bentonville High instituted “Wolverine Wednesdays,” where teachers and students wear West High clothing.

“That’s done a lot to connect people so we can see who’s going,” said Gore, the English teacher. “It builds that sense of community.”

Meanwhile, West High athletic teams and extracurricular groups are organizing around their respective leaders.

The West High band hosted a meet-and-greet Thursday at Bentonville High for students and parents. Jonathon Thomas and Kaleigh Atwood, both sophomores who will be the band’s drum majors, introduced themselves to those in attendance.

Thomas, 16, is in his first full year at Bentonville High after moving from Conway the school year before. He said he’s aware some students are upset about their imminent move to West High, but he’s not one of them. He views it as a chance to meet new people and develop closer relationships.

“I think this school has sentimental value to a lot of people,” Thomas said. “We’re starting over. I think this event and others like it will lead to less nervousness and begin to foster those relationships.”

Albert Ortiz, West High’s band director, expects to start with about 100 students in his band. Ortiz is looking forward to building the program’s foundation and watching the traditions they help launch.

“We’ve got Wolverines scattered throughout the district,” Ortiz said. “The challenge will be getting them unified and getting that culture built sooner rather than later.”

Another challenge may come in setting up the kind of booster organization that has supported Bentonville High’s band.

The Bentonville Band Boosters executive board decided last week it will maintain its focus on Bentonville High. West High’s band will have to form its own booster club.

The executive board voted 6-0 in favor of the split, with one member abstaining, according to Chris Wall, the organization’s president.

That decision came as a surprise, said Danny Prejoles, a Centerton resident whose daughter will try out for West High’s color guard this year. Prejoles has taken a leading role in organizing parents for the West High booster club.

“We were shocked, but I think we’re more encouraged than intimidated by the opportunity to do our own thing,” Prejoles said.

The booster club expects to spend between $130,000 and $150,000 by the end of this fiscal year, according to Chris Wall, the organization’s president. That money goes toward operational expenses of the program, including trips to band competitions.

Executive board members considered maintaining a single club for both schools, but decided that wouldn’t be best for either school’s band, Wall said.

“It really came down to looking at where the programs are and their needs being different as they start to move forward,” Wall said. “We feel like this allows us to be a little more focused at each facility to provide what the program and the kids need.”

Wall added the Bentonville Band Boosters has no intention of abandoning the West High families.

“We will, especially this first year, be providing a lot of support to help them establish their foundation and documents, getting their 501(c)(3) status set up and providing them insight,” Wall said.

Ortiz sent a letter to West High band and color guard parents last week informing them of the booster club’s decision.

“What I need from all of you is to get the word out, go to booster meetings, ask questions about the details of the split, and start to get involved,” Ortiz wrote. “Best thing we can do is start to get a group of parents together who would like to play a part in creating the new organization.”

As for the athletic programs, Guthrie said the first year will be a challenge without seniors; still, he looks forward to seeing the Wolverines compete.

“We have excellent coaches. And they are going to be working on developing those players and getting them ready. It may be year two before we see more success, but that’s all right. We’re thinking long term. And we’ll celebrate every small victory along the way,” Guthrie said.

Dave Perozek can be reached at dperozek@nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWADaveP.

Print Headline: School readies for opening

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