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Arkadelphia, Ark. — It’s been more than three weeks since the announcement that the Arkadelphia Promise had been established to guarantee aspiring Clark County college hopefuls the funding to attend a university.

Now, Arkadelphia Superintendent Donnie Whitten says he and the rest of the faculty and staff with the school system are working hard to make sure the high standards set by the new program are met.

Spurred by the Clark County Strategic Plan, the school has worked over recent years to improve Advance Placement classes and to begin a college predatory program

According to Whitten, these programs prompted a desire to go a step farther. Planning for the Arkadelphia Promise began 18 months ago, and it took the sponsorship of the Ross Foundation and Southern Bancorp to make it all come together.

“It took lots of planning,” said Whitten, going on to state that estimates involving the number of students and the projected cost were among the items investigated thoroughly before the announcement.

Whitten also said that they looked to advice from Claiborne Deming of Murphy Oil, who was the chief investor behind the El Dorado Promise.

The Ross Foundation and Southern Bancorp became Arakdelphia’s equivalent of Murphy Oil, and the two entities have committed for the next 18 years to provide scholarships to students who qualify.

Whitten said that the programs and promise are all part of a “P-20” plan to encourage more students to pursue graduate and post-graduate degrees, the “P” indicating Pre-school and the “20” representing the eight years of studies one might complete after high school.

Since the announcement, Whitten said that there have been calls of congratulations and press inquiries from all across the state, and even a few on the national level.

But now that the ambitious program is in place, the pressure is on, according to Whitten.

“We all have to step it up in order to meet the standards,” said Whitten. “We have to make sure that our students have an opportunity to take advantage of our gift.”

Whitten noted that this “stepping up” does not stop at the school, but continues into the home. Whitten said that when parents are more involved in a child’s day-to-day studies, students do better in the classroom.

Whitten said getting students to college is only another step in the process. The next is retention. Whitten said, though, that that is a potential problem that the universities will ultimately have to address.

In the end, Whitten said he and the school district feel gratitude to those who made this unique opportunity possible.

“I want to say ‘thank you’ to all of our community, the Ross Foundation and Southern Bancorp for making the night of the announcement special,” said Whitten. “We all will continue to collaborate to build a high-quality educational system for our students.”