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Hope Public Schools Board Leads District Innovation

By Ken McLemore/Hope Public Schools, 01/7/22 1:18 AM

HOPE – The policy leadership of the Hope Public Schools Board of Education has fostered opportunities for innovation in public education in Hope and Hempstead County over a number of years that make the HPS a model for innovation in an era of change.

“The decision making of the HPS School Board is to be commended,” HPS Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Crossley said. “Every member is a shining example of responsive and empathetic leadership, even during difficult times.”

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson proclaimed January as Arkansas School Board Member Recognition Month.

“The mission of public schools is to meet the diverse educational needs of all children and to help each student become a productive citizen, contributing to a democratic society,” Gov. Hutchinson said. “Local school board members must be committed to the success of our children as they work to ensure that every child thrives with educational programs tailored to meet his or her individual needs.”

The seven members of the Hope Public Schools Board have actively engaged to reflect Hutchinson’s point over terms of board service that total more than 70 years combined and reflect experience in public education, law enforcement, legislative government, military service, and retail business.

Over time, that experience has been reflected in the innovations adopted by HPS school boards.

“With every challenge presented to the board, they look for opportunities to provide guidance and restore faith in the democratic process,” Crossley said.

MAGNET GRANT

The most recent initiative of the HPS reflects that commitment in the development of a $15 million magnet school grant. The five-year program under the federal Magnet School Assistance Program is planned for submission this year.

Dr. Crossley said the creation of a “magnet” school for the HPS is part of a long-term vision for a “cradle to career” approach to public education which will make the HPS the premiere school district in Southwest Arkansas.

The proposal is also a response to the need to stanch declining enrollment created through the “school choice” law in Arkansas, which has affected the HPS as a result of a 1989 federal desegregation lawsuit consent decree. The board has sought to expose the re-segregation effect of the state law while maintaining innovative opportunities for HPS students.

The proposed grant includes contracting with NOLA Education, LLC, of New Orleans, La., which develops and operates its Star Academy program for school districts using hands-on, career-readiness methodologies in a grades 7-9 environment for students who are academically behind, according to the company’s literature.

The $900,000 grant written for the Yerger Middle School campus, the first component of the magnet grant proposal, will be directed toward STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) at Yerger.

Planning is for a proposed 80-student pilot program at Yerger. The grant for the program would not include teacher salaries.

Using a core curriculum of more than 100 career concepts, the Star Academy teaches “soft skills” development in combination with exposure to specific career fields that allows students to move into a broader workforce development program such as the Bobcats Work program adopted by the district.

BOBCATS WORK

“Bobcats Work” is a junior and senior level high school employment skills development and experience partnership placing eligible Hope High School students directly into the local workforce. Participating businesses and industry in Hope provide paid or unpaid positions for students to acquire skills and gain work experience to become productive post-graduation employees of their partner business or industry.

The kickoff luncheon in December at Hempstead Hall on the University of Arkansas-Hope campus was attended by some 60 representatives of local business, industry and government. A second organizational meeting sponsored through the Hempstead County Economic Development Corporation is planned for January.

COLLEGIATE/CAREER TECH ACADEMIES

The first cohort of the Hope Collegiate Academy to graduate was from the Hope High School Class of 2021. Created in 2018-19 through a partnership between the HPS and the University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana, the HCA provides the opportunity for eligible 10th grade Hope High School students to graduate from a totally immersive college course of study with an Associate of Arts degree and an HHS diploma simultaneously free of cost.

HCA technical students have the opportunity to graduate from a totally immersive technical career course of student with a professional certification and high school diploma free of cost.

HCA students remain a part of Hope Bobcat student life by their choice of dedicated time for participating in extracurricular activities or not; transportation to and from UAHT each day is provided by the Hope Public Schools; and meals are provided by the HPS.

COVID-19 RESPONSE

Arkansas School Boards Association Executive Director Dr. Tony Prothro said School Board Appreciation Month represents the best in the response to challenges such as COVID-19.

“The last two years have been eventful to say the least as many of us interacted with others through a series of computer monitors, tablets, and/or smart phone screens,” Dr. Prothro said. “As school districts navigated the turbulent calendar year, school board members serving districts in Arkansas faced new challenges.”

In October, the HPS School Board further refined district policies related to COVID-19 by adopting a 7-day and a 10-day quarantine protocol. Parents are given the opportunity to choose their option when their student is notified of an exposure to COVID-19. The board also updated the district’s certified personnel COVID-19 Emergency Leave policy in October.

In November, the board re-affirmed the district’s face mask requirement on all campuses and at all indoor activities.

Monetary support through federal ESSER funding was adopted by the board in June in a one-time payment to compensate district personnel for work performed specifically relative to the district’s response to COVID-19. The board also created a monetary incentive for district employees to become vaccinated with a one-time payment approved in June.

The board adopted a regimen of mitigation efforts early in the pandemic by providing free masks for students, teachers and staff, as well as hand sanitizer in each classroom. But, the board went a step further by contracting with Henderson, Arkansas based Ecovasive Arkansas for a series of facilities treatments covering all 600,000 square feet of HPS classrooms, buses and other infrastructure.

The HPS has also provided public COVID-19 vaccination clinic opportunities through partnership with ExpressRx pharmacy which resulted in some 1,553 local residents becoming vaccinated. And, the Board has been supportive as the district moved forward with vaccination clinics for students, once safe vaccine regimens were approved. Student vaccination clinics were offered for all students at on-campus clinics and at Hope High School home football games.

Clinic dates for the remainder of the year include Jan. 12; Feb. 2 and 23; March 6; April 6 and 27; and May 18.

“Thanks to the board, HPS is not only surviving COVID-19, we are thriving,” Crossley said.

BOBCAT CLINIC

The Bobcat Clinic represents a unique response by the HPS board to a growing need for outpatient healthcare services which began in 2018 as the board supported the efforts of school nurses Renee Sells, RN, district nurse, and campus nurses Marcia Widel, RN, Geri Maxfield, LPN, and Glenda Newton, RN.

Along with now Bobcat Clinic Director Gretchen Carlton, RN, Assistant Superintendent Portia Jones and then, Hope High School Principal Bill Hoglund, board members took the idea to the community.

Board members worked to build public support for the clinic in a hearing before the site selection committee of the Arkansas Department of Health and the ADE for a $500,000 Arkansas Department of Education grant of tobacco excise tax funds to establish the Bobcat Clinic.

Incorporating support from some 150 students, community leaders, parents and other educators, the proposal won approval in a competition against applications from 32 other school districts.

Operating from the repurposed and remodeled Home and Family Sciences cottage on the Hope High School campus, the Bobcat Clinic is open daily through the week to provide outpatient physical and mental health services to all HPS students, faculty and staff at little or no cost.

The facility has been the focal point for the district’s response to COVID-19 testing and vaccination efforts through District Point of Contact Gretchen Carlton.

WRAP AROUND SERVICES

The HPS serves more than 2,000 students daily as the largest public-school district in the Hempstead, Nevada, Lafayette counties area.

Student services provided in an on-going fashion with board support include the Community Eligibility Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture which provides for free breakfast and lunch meals to all students through the school week without qualification. The board certifies the district’s free and reduced lunch eligibility annually through the office of HPS Child Nutrition Director Deanna Gilbert.

The provision of meals has continued uninterrupted through the HPS Summer Meals Program for any child under age 18 in need with deliveries for drive-up or on-site service to local parks by the colorful Activity Bus operated by Gilbert’s department.

The summer meals plan provided the foundation for the immediate response by the district when COVID-19 forced all schools in Arkansas to be closed. Food services continued for drive-up delivery at numerous sites throughout Hempstead County for any child under age 18.

The board has also supported the development of a system of “needs pantries” on each HPS campus where students or families of students may obtain household items, canned and non-perishable food, snacks, and items of donated clothing.

“Parent centers” on each campus were developed with policy support by the board for parents of HPS students to obtain supplemental learning materials for their student(s), free books for at home libraries, tutoring guidance for parents, and information concerning other school services.

Dr. Linda Clark has served as the social services director for the district for a number of years, providing in-home counseling for students with attendance or discipline issues, working with local mental health professionals and the Bobcat Clinic’s mental health component to provide services to HPS students and their families. Dr. Clark also directs the “homeless student” program for the district which sees to housing needs for students who are migrant/homeless.

The board created a second social worker position in December for Clark’s department.

TECHNOLOGY

The board has kept the HPS on the cutting edge of education technology with interactive technology for teaching in each classroom, a one-to-one student Chromebook program, and the incorporation of internet-based software including the Waterford and Lincoln Learning curriculums for virtual instruction during COVID-19 pivot periods.

Employees and teachers are provided laptop computers for continuity of work and communication during off-site periods such as conferences and during COVID-19 pivots.

The district also offers the e-school application for parent interaction on student progress and the “Here Comes the Bus” application to track student pickup and return by HPS buses daily.

HAPS CONCEPT

Developed in partnership with the graduate student program of the William J. Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock, the Hope Academy of Public Service is a unique concept in public education in Arkansas.

The grades 5-8 academy is an open enrollment campus of the HPS for students who reside within the school district that emphasizes a rigorous curriculum built around collaborative, computer-based and project-centered learning to prepare each student to think as a college-ready scholar. True to its name, students at HAPS also address their education through public service components in the greater Hope community such as hurricane relief for students in Refugio, Texas, schools; holiday packages for U.S. troops in the Middle East; “love blankets” for patients at Arkansas Children’s Hospital; Team Shelter food project for the Hope Animal Shelter; and the award-winning “Denny’s Place” commemorative garden/outdoor class space.

Created with significant community support and through extensive community discussion, HAPS opened in 2017 with Dr. Carol Ann Duke, who began her teaching career at Yerger Junior High School in 1992, as principal.

Under the board’s mandate for innovation that produces excellence, HAPS has earned multiple recognition from the Arkansas Center for Education Policy of the University of Arkansas’ “Beating the Odds” awards in student academic growth. And, the concept has been the model for other programs in the Texarkana Arkansas School District and elsewhere.

Current members of the Hope Public Schools Board include Viney Johnson (Zone 1/Fiscal Representative), Margaret Moss (Zone 3), Jimmy Courtney (Zone 4), Linda Haynes (Zone 5/President), Kathryn Dickinson (Zone 6/Secretary), Alvis Hamilton (Zone 7), and David “Bubba” Powers (Zone 2).