Northwest Arkansas educators highlight successes during forum

Posted: February 9, 2018 at 1 a.m.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE Justin Minkel (right), a Jones Elementary School teacher, speaks Thursday alongside Jim Rollins, Springdale School District superintendent, during the NWA Education Forum at the Tyson School of Innovation in Springdale. Representatives from the Springdale, Fayetteville, Bentonville, Siloam Springs and Pea Ridge school districts presented information about innovation and successes in their districts.

SPRINGDALE -- Leaders of several Northwest Arkansas school districts came together for a public forum Thursday to celebrate the achievements of their districts and share a little about the programs and strategies their schools employ.

Representatives of the Bentonville, Fayetteville, Pea Ridge, Springdale and Siloam Springs districts each got their turn to talk. Later they sat down together and answered questions from the audience, which included many fellow educators but also some legislators, legislative candidates and other community members.

Enrollment

Public schools — including 15 traditional public school districts and four open-enrollment charter schools — in Benton and Washington counties serve about 85,000 students.

Source: Staff report

NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE Rick Neal, Pea Ridge School District superintendent, speaks Thursday alongside Pea Ridge High School students Brett Ki...

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The forum, held at the Tyson School of Innovation, was intended to "lift up the work of everybody in the community that is invested in public education," said Tracey-Ann Nelson, executive director of the Arkansas Education Association, which organized the event.

Anna Beaulieu, a French teacher at Fayetteville High School, said the 10,000 students enrolled in the Fayetteville School District expect her and other educators "to teach, to inspire, to challenge and to encourage."

Beaulieu ran down a list of accomplishments of Fayetteville's secondary schools. Out of 695 students in this year's senior class at Fayetteville High School, the top 50 students have an average ACT composite score of 32, and the top 250 have an average of 29, she said. The maximum score is 36.

While each district has its own achievements to brag about, educators shouldn't be focused on competing against one another, Beaulieu said.

"We are all committed to educating our students in an effort to prepare them for their future that will ultimately benefit our communities and our state. We gain nothing by putting each other down to bring ourselves up," she said.

Springdale Superintendent Jim Rollins and Justin Minkel, a teacher at Jones Elementary School, talked about Springdale's commitment to treating each of its students as an individual.

"What I love about Dr. Rollins is, I think he doesn't see 23,000 students in this big stadium," Minkel said. "He sees one child. And then another child. Twenty-three thousand times. And that's incredibly hard to do. Even as a teacher, it's hard to see those 25 kids as individuals."

Pea Ridge Superintendent Rick Neal introduced a teacher and two students involved in his district's Manufacturing and Business Academy, a two-year program at the high school giving students real-world exposure to certain career paths.

The two students were taking a break from their jobs at J.B. Hunt, where they are the youngest to work for the company, according to teacher Cathy Segur.

Ken Ramey and Debbie Jones, superintendents of the Siloam Springs and Bentonville districts, respectively, also shared information about their districts.

Nelson asked the panel of district leaders several questions submitted anonymously by the audience. One question concerned state funding.

"Convince the lawmakers in the audience that you need funding and talk about the challenges of not having that funding," Nelson said, reading one of the questions. "If you are all doing these wonderful things with reduced or insufficient funding, why do you need increased support from the state?"

Jones referred to Bentonville's Ignite program, which allows high school students to explore a particular career while getting real-world experiences with area businesses. Ignite relies in part on outside organizations to provide space for those classes for free; otherwise, the district pays rent. Sometimes those classes are displaced because of scheduling conflicts, she said.

"Can we grow and sustain excellent programs like that? We cannot. And so it's critical we stay committed to public education," Jones said.

She jokingly pointed out the gray hair and wrinkles on school administrators' faces. They've been prematurely aged by the stress of sticking to tight budgets, she said.

Rollins asked the audience to think about all the services required for students, many of whom live in poverty.

"It requires adequate resources to provide the services for the children," he said.

NW News on 02/09/2018