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Beebe to Speak at Academic Signing Day

Posted on April 15, 2014

Originally published in the El Dorado News-Times on April 16, 2014.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe will be this year?s keynote speaker for Academic Signing Day for recipients of the El Dorado Promise scholarship program.

The eighth annual event will take place at 1:30 p.m. on April 28 in the El Dorado High School Wildcat Arena.

The signing day will celebrate almost 300 graduating seniors, each of whom will be receiving El Dorado Promise scholarships, as well as others, according to Lila Phillips, director of the El Dorado Education Foundation.

Also present will be Claiborne Deming, chairman of the board of Murphy Oil Corp., who announced the El Dorado Promise in January 2007; Roger Jenkins, Murphy Oil president and chief executive officer; Dr. Tom Kimbrell, Arkansas Commissioner of the State Department of Education and El Dorado Mayor Frank Hash.

Beebe has made improving education one of his top priorities. His education policies and initiatives have garnered nationwide attention. To build a better-trained workforce, Beebe has worked to match colleges and universities with local businesses and has led changes in the way schools teach science, math, engineering and technology. He currently serves as the chairman of the Southern Governors? Association and in 2011, was honored by "Governing? magazine as Public Official of the Year.

"We are thrilled to have Gov. Beebe as our keynote speaker. His work in education has done so much for the state of Arkansas and perfectly aligns with our goals of the El Dorado Promise,? stated EHS Principal Alva Reibe.

The El Dorado Promise is a $50 million scholarship program funded entirely by Murphy Oil Corp. for EHS graduates. Over the past seven years, the Promise has provided funding to 1,367 EHS graduates attending 60 colleges and universities. The Promise reaches beyond the boundaries of economic need and academic ability to pay up to 100 percent of college tuition and mandatory fees. It is for all students graduating from EHS who have been El Dorado Public School students since at least the ninth grade. The Promise also applies to transfer students who enroll, under school choice, into the El Dorado Public Schools. When combined with the Arkansas Challenge Lottery Scholarship or others, it may be used for other college expenses, such as room-and-board.

According to Sylvia Thompson, EDPS director of El Dorado Promise, about 90 percent of last year?s Promise-eligible class have gone on to attend college. "Many Promise recipients are first-generation higher-education students, making this program even more important,? she added.

When asked why Murphy Oil Corp. decided to fund the El Dorado Promise, Deming said, "Education is one of the few things you can provide a person that can permanently change their lives.?

According to the latest El Dorado Promise report, studies show that higher education makes a difference in the quality of life and economy of a region. The report illustrates a direct correlation between the percentage of adults with a bachelor?s degree or higher and the Gross Domestic Product per capita in the state. Arkansas falls far below average in both respects.

"We have been pleased to see the impact the El Dorado Promise is making each year in increased college enrollment and retention,? Deming said. "We are also seeing now that the program?s impact reaches even further as younger students, understanding that they can attend college, are pursuing a more rigorous curriculum with resultant improved standardized test scores.?

A University of Arkansas study showed that students in the third grade when the program was announced outperformed peers in other districts by 14 points in math, and 12 points in literacy, on the Arkansas Benchmark Exam four years later.

Additionally, Bonnie Haynie, EDPS director of professional development/federal programs, stated that last spring more than 600 EHS students took college-level Advanced Placement classes. In 2012, Beebe recognized the district for outstanding achievement statewide, as the number of AP exams given since the Promise began had gone up 68 percent. Currently, EHS offers up to 20 AP courses, up from only three 15 years ago. The College Board also has recognized EHS for achievement two years in a row.

Recently, the Promise was featured in both "Politico? and "American Airlines? magazines.

"Creating a skilled workforce is one of our most important tasks. As Promise graduates succeed and return, the program helps provide highly-skilled and valuable residents. The Promise continues to be an amazing example of both educational and economic leadership,? said Jeremy Stratton, president and CEO of the El Dorado Chamber of Commerce.

"Currently, only about one in five Arkansans has a bachelor?s degree. Gov. Beebe?s goal is to double the state?s college graduation rate by 2025. The El Dorado Promise has touched the lives of students and families in our school district in a life-changing way. Students are realizing the real value of this scholarship program and how it can help in the design of their future. Academic Signing Day is designed to celebrate the hard work of these Promise graduates ? especially for their parents, other students and their invited guests,? said Bob Watson, superintendent of El Dorado Schools.

Promise students can attend any accredited two or four-year college or university in the United States, and the Class of 2014 will sign EHS letters of intent for 34 separate institutions. EHS students will be attending the following colleges and universities (in-state): Arkansas State University, Arkansas Tech University, Harding College, Henderson State University, Hendrix College, Lyon College, Ouachita Baptist University, Philander Smith College, Pulaski Technical College, South Arkansas Community College, Southern Arkansas University ?Tech, Southern Arkansas University ? Magnolia, University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, University of Arkansas at Monticello, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and the University of Central Arkansas.

Out-of-state colleges and universities included this year will be: Auburn University, Blinn College, Bossier Parish Community College, East Texas Baptist University, Grambling State University, Jackson State University, Louisiana Tech University, Mississippi State University, North Carolina State University, Southwestern Assemblies of God University, University of Houston, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, University of Louisiana at Monroe, University of Mississippi, University of Oklahoma and the University of Virginia. Graduates joining the military begin scholarships after completing tours of duty.

Academic Signing Day?s title sponsor is First Financial Bank. The event is a partnership of the El Dorado Education Foundation, EDPS, Murphy Oil Corp., and the El Dorado Promise.

Other sponsors are: the El Dorado News-Times, College Avenue Church of Christ, South Arkansas Community College and W.I. Bell Photographer. Academic Signing Day committee members are: co-chairs Alice Mahony and Bonnie Haynie, Stacy Sells, Beth Weldon, Bob Watson, Jim Tucker, Alva Reibe, Katie Sandifer, Magen Olive, Scott Reed, Lila Phillips and Sylvia Thompson. "