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Northwest Arkansas schools offered participation in developmental cohorts

by Mary Jordan | June 11, 2021 at 7:40 a.m.
Cayce Neal, Northwest Arkansas Education Service Cooperative retention and recruitment facilitator, shares information on novice teacher development opportunities Thursday at the coop's monthly meeting. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Mary Jordan)

FARMINGTON -- The Arkansas Rural Educator Network is inviting Northwest Arkansas schools and districts to participate in its latest developmental cohort, administrators said.

Nicole Bolen, program director with the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, shared a presentation on the network with the Northwest Arkansas Education Service Cooperative at its June directors meeting Thursday.

"We want to support district leaders and school leaders to build effective educators," Bolen said.

The institute is a nonprofit group, which impacts more than 275,000 educators and 2.75 million students from Phoenix to rural Tennessee, according to the institute's website. The institute partners with schools, districts and states to develop sustainable systems for school improvement and teacher and leader development.

The first two-year cohort began in Arkansas one year ago and included 12 schools primarily from eastern and southwestern Arkansas, Bolen said.

The Woodlawn, Waldron, Marvell-Elaine, Foreman, Mayflower and Harrisburg districts have all signed up to participate in the cohort beginning the 2021-22 school year, she said. There are still eight openings for schools or districts to participate, she said.

No Northwest Arkansas schools nor districts have participated in or signed up for a cohort to date, something Bolen said she hopes will change.

"We'd love to partner with them," she said. "We want to build more collaboration and networking for rural districts."

Cohorts receive strengths-based assessments to understand school or district needs, Bolen said. The network then helps leverage what's working, along with recognized goals and needs, to create a support plan.

Samples of how the cohorts may support participants include helping to build a shared instructional leadership team with clear expectations and responsibilities, developing an action plan for addressing needs of high-poverty students and providing strengths-based coaching and training to help improve instructional practices, she said.

There is no cost for the first year of the cohort, Bolen said. There is a $3,750 fee for teaching and coaching only for the second year, she said.

Applications for the cohorts are accepted year-round, Bolen said.

Cayce Neal, retention and recruitment facilitator for the cooperative, also shared information on novice teacher mentoring opportunities through the cooperative's recruitment and retention program.

In Northwest Arkansas, 752 of the area's 4,700 teachers -- or 16% -- are in their first, second or third year of teaching, Neal said. Northwest Arkansas has the highest number of novice teachers in the state, followed by Crowley's Ridge Education Service Cooperative with 486 and the Arch Ford Education Service Cooperative with more than 400, she said.

Coaching and mentoring offered to novice teachers includes classroom management for first-year teachers, instruction and assessment for second-year teachers and culturally responsive teaching for third-year teachers, she said.

There are no costs for teachers to participate in the program, Neal said.

"We also reimburse districts for substitute costs incurred when novice teachers participate in our program," she said.

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Board Officers

The Northwest Arkansas Education Service Cooperative Board of Directors unanimously selected officers Thursday for the coming year:

President: Jody Wiggins, Siloam Springs superintendent

Vice President: Marlin Berry, Rogers superintendent

Secretary: Maribel Childress, Gravette superintendent

The cooperative offers professional development and support services to school districts in the region. The board consists of superintendents of each district.

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