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FAYETTEVILLE -- Superintendent Matthew Wendt announced formation of a School Safety and Security Task Force during a joint meeting between the City Council and School Board Thursday night.

The task force was solidified this week and came up in a conversation on school safety, one of the many issues addressed by the group present. This is the first time in six years the council and board have met together, said Justin Eichmann, board president.

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Task force members will include the Washington County sheriff, Fayetteville chief of police, University of Arkansas chief of police, representatives from the school and mayor's office, director of investigations for Walmart, state representatives David Whitaker and Greg Leding and many others, Wendt said.

The force has a June deadline to assess and recommend to the board on how to improve school safety and security.

"Our schools are safer today than in the history of our country. Fact," Wendt said. "It makes no difference. Parents and their kids have to actually feel safe and secure."

The School District has taken steps over the years to increase safety, Wendt said, such as the decreased entrances to the new high school.

"You can have a facility that is 100 percent safe that is akin to a prison," Eichmann said.

Council member John La Tour said he's all for a task force but it really comes down to personal relationships and everyday interactions between teachers and their students.

The council and board also discussed a range of other issues such as area growth, poverty, broadband access and the role of school counselors during Thursday night's meeting.

In the realm of growth, Eichmann said it's a "chicken and the egg" situation on how new schools affect city growth and vice versa. Both agreed they must work together in deciding on the best place to put a new elementary school and possibly middle school when the time comes.

Wendt spoke on the educational divide when it comes to testing and the issues of poverty and homelessness many Fayetteville students face. About 40 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, he said.

"We have a divide. What is the divide? It's the poverty issue," he said.

One area the council and board spoke about cooperating on is workforce training and development for students, especially for technical and skilled trades, which are some of the most needed in the area, Don Marr, city chief of staff, said in his presentation.

Mayor Lioneld Jordan also said the city is making progress in accessible and affordable broadband. The city recently added free Wi-Fi in several more parks around the city.

Board member Susan Heil said that's important in schools, because the schools can give tablets to students but those students time is limited if they don't have internet access outside of school. This issue can further impact the achievement gap.

"We are going to narrow that homework gap," Jordan said. "It's an as-soon-as-possible goal."

The role of school counselors also generated much discussion. Wendt said they will be giving over master schedule work to administration from counselors to allow them to focus on helping students.

Council member Adella Gray agreed, "We have to free up the counselors so they have time to counsel."

The group discussed making these meetings a biannual event, once in fall and once in spring.

NW News on 03/02/2018

Print Headline: Superintendent announces city-school task force

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