It's no secret Jacksonville schools are past their prime.
The city's students attend class in some of the oldest buildings in the Pulaski County Special School District. A proposal announced by Superintendent Jerry Guess to break Jacksonville off to form its own district is caught up in federal court.
But major changes are already happening at the high school, where a new team of administrators is giving the community something to be proud of.
Class was out Friday, but the work had just begun at Jacksonville High School.
KARK 4 News tried to sit down with first-year principal Henry Anderson for a one-on-one interview and quickly realized the school's success has been a team effort.
"Dictators don't work in education," Anderson said. "It has to be a team approach."
Anderson, with administrators Sandy Williams and Cherry Johnson (and many others), are changing the school's culture one student at a time.
Students like Lerome Kelley, a lone senior studying hard in the library.
Kelley had big plans for the future that included playing basketball at Arkansas Baptist College. But reality hit hard when he failed a chemistry class by thee points (697 out of 700 he needed to pass).
So, long after his classmates had walked and received their diplomas, Kelley was pouring over textbooks and taking tests. Twenty hours of class time, and he would graduate.
"I should be finished Tuesday," Kelley said.
But instead of being upset, or bitter, Kelley was optimistic, with high praise for Principal Anderson and his staff. The senior says things changed at the school when Anderson took over at the beginning of the year. Kelley says the big man knew his name at once, and took an interest in his success.
"I see him every day, and his first words are, 'Pull your pants up! And put your ID around your neck!'" Kelley said. "I just appreciate what they're (administrators) doing for me now, because if it weren't for them, I wouldn't be here... Probably walking the streets. I ain't gonna lie."
Anderson showed KARK 4 News the checklist he gave seniors at the beginning of the school year, showing their progress and they classes they still needed to graduate. He says the school's counseling staff went over every single student, and mapped out a sure plan for graduation.
Then Anderson got parents involved, with meetings at the beginning of the year, and again after the first semester. His purpose? Letting the students know what's expected of them, early and often, and making sure they have everything they need to succeed. It's the same formula he applies to his staff.
In a single year, Anderson and his team set a paradigm shift in motion at Jacksonville High School, changing the culture and attitude across the board.
But the real proof is in the numbers.
It wasn't official as of Friday, but Anderson says the graduation rate in 2012 was more than 90 percent, about 50 percent higher than the year before. Benchmark test scores were also up 10 percent from 2011.