August 2019

Get to Know the Leadership of Arkansas’ Six Largest Public Schools

finalists

by Dustin Jayroe

Little Rock School District
Number of Schools in District:48
Enrollment: 23,000
Superintendent: Michael Alan Poore
Education:B.A., Colorado State University; M.A., University of Colorado
Hometown: Born in Hayes, Kansas, but grew up in Colorado. Moved to Arkansas in 2011.

What attracted you to your career? 

The desire to impact children.  I had the opportunity to work at a youth camp in my sophomore year of college. It was a residential camp, so you were with the kids 24/7.  This experience showed me how much I enjoyed being around kids and that I might just have a talent to support young people.

What are some challenges your school faces and how are you overcoming them? 

Local control, literacy rates and remaining competitive to provide options for families. It has been my commitment from Day 1 to help our district regain local control; that means developing and implementing strategies/systems, including school improvement plans, that enhance academic achievement at every level. We also have worked to improve literacy rates through a variety of methods, including having our teachers trained in the science of reading (Arkansas R.I.S.E.); a more intentional focus and delivery to better support our students who need dyslexic services — we hired a full-time dyslexia specialist thisyear; partnering with AR Kids Read, the city of Little Rock, Dolly Parton Imagination Library and the Central Arkansas Library System, to name a few; expanding career tech ed; developing community/business partnerships to keep students engaged; and providing real world, relevant past educational experiences that align with college and career opportunities. We have also been very aggressive in working to create better learning environments for our students and our staff. We have improved lighting, modified-upscaled restrooms, improved HVAC systems and improved our athletic facilities.

 

Springdale School District
Number of Schools in District:  31
Enrollment:21,828
Superintendent: Dr. Jim D. Rollins
Education: B.A., Arkansas College; M.Ed., Ed.S., Ed.D., University of Arkansas
Hometown: Greenbrier

What’s something others would be surprised to know about you or your school? 

Our school district is both highly diverse and has a student body poverty rate exceeding 70 percent. Even with challenges presented by these conditions, Springdale students are excelling and competing extremely well statewide and nationally.

Why would you recommend your school to prospective students and their parents? 

We are focused on student literacy, numeracy and social well-being. Springdale’s great teachers learn right along with their students. The focus of the district is on personalized learning and innovation. Our school district is growing in prominence at the local, state and national level, and Springdale students are leading the way. In Springdale, it is all about the students!

 

Fort Smith School District
Number of Schools in District: 27
Enrollment: 14,500
Superintendent: Dr. Doug Brubaker
Education: B.A., University of Kansas; M.Ed., Texas Christian University; Ph.D., University of North Texas
Hometown: Ellinwood, Kan. Moved to Arkansas in January 2017.

What are some challenges your school faces and how are you overcoming them? 

In May 2018, we launched a strategic planning initiative, Vision 2023, that was designed to identify some of our greatest challenges and develop solutions for them. An initial group of 32 stakeholders identified seven key areas for growth: career pathways, equity, instructional excellence, learning environments, staffing, technology and wellness. We were really excited to see nearly 200 parents, educators, students and community members engage in the process of defining those goals for the new Vision 2023 five-year strategic plan. A citizens committee then pared down a list of more than $468 million worth of needs to a $121 million millage proposal that addressed critical needs such as a new career-and-technology center, grade reconfiguration, a technology replacement cycle, security upgrades and building renovations. The approval of this proposal by voters in May 2018 funded what is now known as the Vision 2023 Capital Improvement Plan. We will continue to implement this plan over the next several years. 

What’s something others would be surprised to know about you or your school?

People might be surprised to know that the May 2018 election marked the first time since 1987 that a millage increase for Fort Smith schools was approved by voters, a time span of more than 30 years. We are grateful to the residents of Fort Smith and Barling for their support of Fort Smith public schools and our students. We are committed to ensuring that our processes and projects continue to be characterized by the high degree of transparency our community expects.

The Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) programs at our high schools began during the 2017-18 school year. Students build drones, develop aviation skills, read aeronautical maps and have the opportunity to earn the industry certification to use their new skills professionally. 

 

Rogers School District
Number of Schools in District: 26
Enrollment: 15,600
Superintendent: Dr. Marlin Berry
Education: B.S.E. and Ed.D., University of Kansas; M.S.E, Emporia State University
Hometown (and when you moved to Arkansas):  Born in Topeka, Kan.; moved to Rogers in 2016.

What are some challenges your school faces and how are you overcoming them?  

We work to prepare students for their future which is a challenging task. To meet the needs of all of our learners, we start with placing a strong teacher in each classroom. We work to provide the fundamental core of learning for all with enrichment opportunities and lots of choices to meet the variety of interests of students and demands in the workforce. We help students explore and gain entrance to top-ranked universities through the unique Rogers Honors Academy. We are teaching students soft skills with motivating competitions like Elmwood’s Amazing Raiders program. We are helping prepare students for college and careers with early college experiences and industry certifications. We are protecting the community’s investment by upgrading older facilities. 

 

Tell us a little more about yourself and your school:

I am continually impressed with the genuine love and care for students in our schools. From teachers to administrators to support staff, people are deeply committed to the mission of ensuring all belong, all learn and all succeed. It’s just part of the culture here and it makes Rogers a great place to learn and grow.

 

Bentonville School District
Number of Schools in District: 22
Enrollment: 17,500
Superintendent: Dr. Debbie Jones
Education: B.S., University of Arkansas; M.A., University of Central Arkansas; Ed.U., University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Hometown: Charleston 

What are some challenges your school faces and how are you overcoming them? 

The greatest challenge for Bentonville schools is the significant growth we experience annually. It requires frequent new building construction which is extremely costly. We overcome this challenge with detailed strategic planning, efficient budget management and collaborative teamwork to maintain the culture of Bentonville schools in each building we open. We have the luxury of hiring the best which enables the district to maintain excellence as we continue to grow. 

What’s something others would be surprised to know about you or your school?

I think they would be surprised to learn while we’re a large district, each school possesses a small town personality. Every family and student is known by our staff. They would also love seeing the classrooms in our districts today. They aren’t the traditional desks lined in rows…instead you see lots of tables in groups with mobile seating to perpetuate hands-on and collaborative learning. 

Why would you recommend your school to prospective students and their parents? I would recommend Bentonville both the city and the school district because it’s a warm and loving place to grow. Bentonville looks like something from a movie with its flag-lined streets and quaint downtown square. The school system is an extension of our community with high standards, morals and a desire for excellence. We offer so much student opportunity and we know there’s a place for everyone in the Bentonville schools family. 

 

Pulaski County Special School District
Number of Schools in District: 25
Enrollment: 12,000
Superintendent: Dr. Charles McNulty
Education: B.S., Lewis and Clark College; M.Ed., Portland State University ; Ph.D., University of Wisconsin
Hometown: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Moved to Little Rock in July 2018

What are some challenges your school faces and how are you overcoming them? 

Under federal court desegregation order for more than 37 years, we are continuing an organizational redesign started in 2017-18 focusing on equity and excellence.

What’s something others would be surprised to know about you or your school?

All 25 schools in 2019-20 will be implementing AVID. AVID is designed to provide all students with the skills and the disposition to access and thrive at the university level if that is his/her choice. AVID also develops the soft skills needed for 21st-century business to thrive in a complex economic environment.

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