Efforts to Increase Black Teachers to Revitalize Schools in Fastest-Shrinking City

By Marianna McMurdock
May 8, 2024

Pine Bluff, Arkansas is the setting for this inspiring tale.

TyKesha and Dedrick Cross, childhood friends, later turned educators, devotedly serve students resembling themselves in the nation’s most rapidly declining urban center.

Education in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, is seen as a path to a brighter future, prompting many of the Cross’s peers to relocate to neighboring areas such as Little Rock and Texas.

The city’s demographic landscape has undergone significant changes over the past ten years, with its population decreasing from 49,000 to 41,250 between 2010 and 2020. Businesses followed residents in the exodus, leaving behind abandoned establishments that were once part of a thriving African American-owned community. The consolidation of two primary school districts led to several vacant school buildings.

Despite these challenges, dedicated educators like the Cross family continue to see Pine Bluff as a potential gem, as TyKesha affectionately describes it, where they’ve nurtured their own children and those of their neighbors.

“Our bond with the community and the children we serve is what anchors us here. This is our home,” stated Dedrick, currently serving as an assistant principal at James Madison Elementary. “Guiding these students and helping them defy the odds is our commitment to this area.”

TyKesha Cross gazes at her grandparents’ former residence, a significant part of her childhood. Throughout Pine Bluff, dilapidated homes and businesses serve as poignant reminders of the city’s economic challenges, past and present, along with its declining population. However, local educators and leaders believe a new era of revitalization is dawning. (Marianna McMurdock/The 74)

The perseverance shown by the Cross family is not an outlier. Many local educators and leaders, both retired and early in their careers, whether native to Pine Bluff or not, share a similar dedication and are starting to witness encouraging signs that stronger schools are within reach.

In a concerted effort to establish trustworthy educational institutions, the community of Pine Bluff is realizing the importance of cultivating a robust teaching workforce.  

Educators are eager to underscore the research that emphasizes the pivotal role of quality teachers in student achievement. Local programs, both traditional and alternative, are transforming the teaching profession into a financially and emotionally sustainable career by enhancing course offerings and providing support in areas like childcare and mental health. Moreover, there is a strong emphasis on recruiting individuals from the community who can relate to students’ experiences and effectively lead schools. 

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