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story.lead_photo.caption Melissa Sawyer (left), president of the Arkansas Governor’s School Alumni Association, listens Thursday to an announcement about the decision to move the Governor’s School. Arkansas Tech President Robin Bowen is in the foreground. - Photo by John Sykes Jr.

Arkansas Tech University in Russellville will host for the next three years the Arkansas Governor's School, a state-funded summer program for 400 gifted high school seniors that has been housed for its first 38 years at Hendrix College in Conway.

The Arkansas Board of Education voted 5-2 Thursday to uphold the final recommendation of a Governor's School site selection committee. That committee took a somewhat rocky path to reach a 9-4 vote to recommend the Arkansas Tech proposal over proposals on location and curriculum from Hendrix College and the University of Central Arkansas.

The site selected for the program is entitled to a $640,000 state grant. The selection is for three years conditioned on annual successful evaluations.

More than a dozen speakers -- including Arkansas Tech President Robin Bowen, two legislators, a mayor, and former Governor's School students and faculty members -- made their cases for either the Tech site or the Hendrix site before the Education Board vote.

Speakers in support of continuing the program at Hendrix argued in large part that the Tech curriculum proposal is too narrowly focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM subjects, to the detriment of the liberal arts and critical-thinking features that were hallmarks in the Hendrix-based program.

Other concerns listed by former faculty and alumni from the Hendrix program included the lack of mentally stimulating field trips and after-hours activities in the Tech plan, the lack of a full-time year-round staff member apart from the admissions officers to coordinate the summer program at Tech, and Tech's plans for the housing of students and faculty members in the same campus facility.

Also noted were Tech's plans to offer a four-week program versus the typical six-week program at Hendrix -- where students are allowed to use their cellphones only in their dorm rooms.

"The Arkansas Tech University faculty ... developed a curriculum that I believe maintains the historical emphasis on arts and humanities," Bowen told the Education Board. "If you read through the proposal, there are still sections on things like instrumental music, theater and literature."

"They did take a critical look at emerging technologies," she said about the planners, adding that everyone who was at Thursday's meeting most likely carried with them electronic devices. "It is pervasive in our society, and I believe it is very important for individuals -- especially our young people -- to analyze the personal and sociological implications as well as the ethics associated with the technology."

Jeff Woods, the dean of Tech's College of Arts and Humanities, who helped with the design of the proposal, said Tech's approach was to add a tech twist to the liberal arts core of Governor's School, not to replace it with technical education. Arts and humanities, as well as the sciences and professional track programs, are necessarily integrated, Woods also said, and any separation of those should be rejected.

He also said that the Tech proposal adheres to the requirements of state rules for the Governor's School curriculum.

Others who spoke for the Tech proposal included Sen. Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, Russellville Mayor Randy Horton and Russellville School District Superintendent Mark Gotcher.

Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, in his remarks to the board, objected to the site selection process in which Hendrix received the highest number of cumulative points from the committee members who used a rubric to evaluate each application. That was largely because one committee member gave 39 more points to Hendrix than to Tech. But the Tech plan won a 9-4 vote of the selection committee members and the final recommendation.

Highest number of points typically wins, Rapert argued.

He also told the board that it was not obligated to accept the site selection committee's recommendation.

"I support STEM. I support workforce education," Rapert said. "That's wonderful but, guess what, we're doing that all over the state. What about those high performing students who need to have intellectual curiosity explored? We do need to have those kinds of programs in place. What's happening is you are taking away from the state of Arkansas that sort of program, which has worked very, very well over the last 38 years."

Melissa Sawyer, president of the Arkansas Governor's School Alumni Association, presented the board with a petition in support of the Hendrix-based program signed by 2,858 people.

Davis Hendricks, legislative advocate for the Arkansans for Gifted and Talented Education, said in a statement that Governor's School has been a research-based program that is specifically designed to give gifted and talented students the opportunity to explore ideas and develop thinking, social and communication skills in a stimulating but safe environment. Any change to that nearly 40-year-old model is a concern, he said, and called the Tech plan an experiment with no track record for success.

Education Board members Brett Williamson of El Dorado and Diane Zook of Melbourne voted against the motion to approve the Arkansas Tech proposal. Williamson said that late oilman Charles Murphy of El Dorado was instrumental in the development of the Governor's School and never intended for it to be anywhere but Hendrix.

Board members Susan Chambers, Sarah Moore, Ouida Newton, Kathy McFetridge and Fitz Hill voted for the Tech plan. Board Chairman Jay Barth, a Hendrix faculty member, recused from any involvement in the issue. Board member Charisse Dean acted as chairman and did not vote although she said she found the process used for the selection to be open and fair and not done just for the sake of change.

Chambers agreed there was "a lot of noise" in the selection process and that the board was asked to make a decision without input from the selection committee on why one site was favored over the others. Still, she said the selection committee vote was not close. She urged that Arkansas Tech in the development of the curriculum and hiring of faculty take into account the work that has been at Hendrix to create what she called " a hybrid solution."

Arkansas Tech University's proposal calls for a four-week program, from July 7 to Aug. 3, for about 400 high school seniors. Courses will focus on "exploring how technology has shaped our society's development and explore possible future developments."

In additional to a specialty program in cybersecurity, there will be courses in geonomics, energy resources over time, technology in fisheries and wildlife techniques, creative writing, literature, film, anthropology and the Ozarks/Ouachita region, math and the biological science, the math of cryptography, music/drama/ visual art.

"The benefits of technology, as well as its challenges and ethical dilemmas will be studied," the proposal states. "Classroom activities will be collaborative and project-based. Students will put the information into social and political contexts."

Metro on 09/14/2018

Print Headline: Tech selected to take over Arkansas Governor's School; Hendrix had been host for 38 years

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