Tuesday, October 18, 2016

WMSD embraces RCA

When successful people look for ways to make significant impacts with the people around them --- the one variable that remains constant is culture.  The driving question becomes "How do we change the culture to not only expect success but to accept success?"  The question is just the tip of the iceberg.  The success comes in the form of how we provide the answer.  This is no secret.  We see struggling companies in the corporate world and even more visible we see struggling professional sports teams and franchises.  These businesses, teams, and franchises don't rebound and go from worst to first without changing their expectations and their culture.  They also learn how to accept and handle success....which is just as important in life.

Every business is different just like every school is different just like every student is different.  There are a thousand ways to express our culture and our expectations.  What may be acceptable practices for some may not be for others.  The key for us in education is finding the right fit or what works best for our students.  Education is shifting more towards personalization and less towards the historical one-size fits all approach like many of us experienced as students.  Every time we commit to helping a student succeed, sometimes against what seems like impossible odds, we're giving that person a new lease on life.

When Wonder Junior High School in the West Memphis School District was commissioned by the state's school improvement office to "Think Outside the Box" and explore new ways to recreate a caring culture on their campus - they used their school improvement grant funds to involve their staff with a life-changing level of commitment and faithfulness to their students that captivated others in West Memphis to follow suit.  Enter the Ron Clark Academy.  Recently, we had a group of elementary educators attend this same training that Wonder Junior attended & installed over a year ago.  These educators have been moved to impact students' lives with a renewed dedication to a new and exciting culture shift for each of their schools.  If you want to see what a changed culture and a commitment to overall and well-rounded student success looks like you just need to take a visit to Wonder Junior High. 

Every single one of these educators have remarked about the commitment each campus has to student success.  It is amazing how inspiring and contagious a positive impact on a student and a campus can become.  Sometimes we all get caught up in the things we can't control.  I have to remind myself and others from time to time -- we need to take a step back and regardless of the issue or topic we need to "put students first".  If we can follow the lead of these teachers and principals when it comes to this commitment of embracing culture shifts and personalization, then we're going to continue to be winning and producing good students in this game of life.

We are going to do whatever it takes to overcome any kind of challenge to deliver to our students the kind of results that they need to change their lives.  It's not just about going through the motions; it's about doing whatever is required to ensure that our students can be successful.  We have a moral obligation to take care of the people who live here in West Memphis and attend our schools.  If we don't take that responsibility seriously, they don't have many options.  We know that every time we help someone toward a brighter future, we have won a major victory for that student, that family, our community, our nation, and our world.

Friday, September 9, 2016

WMSD Building on Progress!

Over the past three years we have been blessed to establish and grow our master facilities plan.  Initially, we have addressed major needs at every single campus site in the West Memphis School District.  There is no rest for the weary.  We recognize we still have much to do.

Established in the early 2000's, the state of Arkansas established the "partnership program" in which districts could participate in a shared state funding model to address academic facilities by meeting a certain set of criteria.  Public school facility funding in Arkansas is composed of three major variables:
Facility Condition is the state of repair of the building infrastructure.  Facility condition takes into consideration all of the building systems from roofs and windows to electrical and mechanical systems.
Educational Suitability is based on having adequate space to support the educational program.
Enrollment Growth addresses the projected school enrollment for the next five to ten years.

Currently, there is much debate swirling around Little Rock and with law/policy makers about shifting the emphasis/access to "partnership funds" to give priority to only those districts that are experiencing rapid growth.  While that conversation may not worry someone outside of our region, it is tremendously significant to those of us who live in eastern Arkansas.

For us, the "partnership plan funds" equate to about .63 cents on each dollar spent towards improving school facility infrastructure on approved projects being paid for by the state.  Before the program existed schools had to rely on savings and bonded debt to update and renovate learning spaces.  Many of us in the Delta are already affected by ailing economies and low tax bases.  The pathway to change this real-life struggle is through a viable education system.

We have developed a master plan to address our aging infrastructure and modernize our learning environments for ALL kids.  This plan will require many stars to line up.  Partnership funding has to continue to be allocated from the state to places like eastern Arkansas.  Our community has to be willing to invest in our children's futures.  Our district must be patient and thoughtful in our approach to remedy some of these concerns.  Everything can not be addressed at the same time.

Our responsibility as this city's public school system is to give our youth better options.  We are constantly asking - How does this or that improve kids?  How can we establish additional opportunities for children?  How can we give them the tools they need to have a viable career after high school?

Graduation day is coming for every student in K-12.  The question should be - What's next?  If you don't think we are attempting to improve life for ALL kids in the West Memphis School District, you've not been paying attention.  We can give you countless examples of people who have already taken advantage of these opportunities.  It is not always about programs.  Sometimes it is about physical environments.  By continuing to improve our school sites to more of a modern-era regarding appearance, engagement, and utilization... our students will be empowered like never before.  And, over the course of time, these are the types of improvements that will change the economic and social face of West Memphis.  Building on Progress!!

Monday, August 29, 2016

The New School Year

The start of the new school year always generates new excitement for students, teachers, and parents.  A whirlwind of events ushers in each new year every August.  Registrations, orientations, back-to-school bashes, teacher in-service, general maintenance work, food service trainings, and transportation plans all take place.  Some how, some way all these functions are linked to make the first day of class and really every day after day one run as smooth as possible.

Putting students first is something we really excel at in the West Memphis School District.  We realize many in the student population we serve are faced with a multitude of challenges each day.  It is our job as educators and adult citizens of our great city to see that we give our kids the very best we have to offer.  This is how we change the trajectory of their futures.  We all invest a great deal of time, thought, and effort into making our process as easy as possible because we understand that a little bit of encouragement to a child goes a long way.

At the end of each day, we want our students to think of their school as a second home, a place where they are nurtured, encouraged, challenged, and motivated to reach their God-given potential.  We firmly believe there is no better place in the Delta to experience a K-12 education, and we guarantee that no place on earth cares more about their students' futures than we do at all of our schools in the West Memphis School District.  I encourage you to support our kids by supporting the West Memphis School District.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Certification Success Stories

Twenty seven of our students recently took giant steps toward rewarding careers by earning a certificate from the National Restaurant Association Food Handler exam.  This is the first of several certifications that our students can possibly earn during their high school career as a Hospitality student.

This is exactly what we envisioned for this pathway and what we hope to replicate in the future many times over as we align our programs, instruction, and training with nationally-recognized industry credentials.  These certifications are game changers for our students and potential employers.  They give students workplace relevant acknowledgement of their skills and abilities, and they allow employers to remove the guesswork from the hiring process equation.

When our students take and pass outside certification exams, they aren't just validating the education and training the receive at the Academies of West Memphis & ASU MidSouth.  They are demonstrating the ability to meet a national standard based on universal performance assessments.

The AWM features educational pathways that encompass both traditional and innovative driven models and accelerated options.

Our students are blessed to be able to work in such a robust career and technical environment at the Secondary Technical Center at ASU-MidSouth.  This institution has some of the finest technical training equipment in the region.  Our conversion charter partnership  strives to place our students in the best learning environment we possibly can.  When our students master the technical equipment in this world-class environment, they are definitely prepared to meet the challenges of the working profession.

WMSD is being recognized as one of the catalyst in the state for sparking a stronger emphasis on CTE.  Our course focus on these last two years has been primarily on grades 9-12.  However, as we plan for the future we realize that expanding these potential pathways need to be incorporated at a much earlier level.  The fact that we can see the great successes of this academy program and the life changing opportunities it provides for kids is the true definition of student-focused education.  And that's how we should be measured as a public education institution.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Basketball is here!

As we prepare for the end of the fall semester, Blue Devil / Lady Devil basketball is in full swing.  Coach Bray and Coach Burns are fine tuning over the next few weeks in preparation for the upcoming conference season.  Our student-athletes need your support to create the best home court advantage we possibly can.

When we return to campus in January, we will be making our final tour in class 7A.  The next two seasons we will be competing in a new conference that will be closer to West Memphis from a geographical sense.  In the mean time, we will continue to compete in the blended 7A/6A conference for the spring of 2016.

Our Lady Devils are off to a great start and our boys continue to develop as we play our last few non-conference games before January.  We need as much student section support for our "round ballers" to match our "gridiron support".  Coach Dauksch has made the courtside experience more accessible for all of our fans as he has moved the reserved seating upward towards the concourse.

We invite you to experience a great basketball environment in Lehr Arena.  It is hard to believe we are competing in our 8th season in this venue.  Take notice of the new home court design, be on the look out for game day promotions in the student section and take advantage of the lower first row seating at mid-court to be close to the action.  While we can't guarantee victories - we can guarantee great effort from our teams and coaches.  Go Blue Devils!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Education and Economic Development

As educators, we have known for years that Arkansas, and many other states, missed the boat when it came to developing a workforce.  The Delta region of Arkansas probably knows this better than most.  We now seem to be headed in a direction that will be beneficial to both our students and our business leaders.  The question becomes what do we need to change?

As we recognize the need for change, we must be willing to engage in new conversations with business and industry representatives to see what their needs are moving forward.  I think we all see the need for making improvements in our state's current educational system - we just don't know how to exactly support those needs.  The reason being is that it calls for "change" from the traditional shoe-horning approach of one size fits all for every child.

This past week the West Memphis School District helped change the conversation in a positive way to some extent.  First, the Arkansas Department of Education released a video on their homepage highlighting the work between the Academies of West Memphis and ASU Mid-South.  Then, on Thursday Commissioner Key shared the same message with a group of about 350 educators across the state.  Our model was the center of discussion with the Bentonville Public School District at a meeting at ATU-Ozark to illustrate the kinds of opportunities that can be provided for kids when you put students first.  Finally, the AAEA shared the West Memphis story statewide in their on-line publication as well as with the Arkansas Career Education Board.

As a partnership group, we want to be able to get kids the skill sets to be able to get great jobs throughout our region.  We want our educational model to be based on what it takes for industries to make money.  What do they need in terms of skills, capacities, and talents in a workforce so that they can be profitable?  Companies depend on great employees.  If they don't have them, it doesn't matter where they're located;  they can't make money.  In today's technologically-intense workplace, the skills of the workforce are the biggest part of a company's bottom-line consideration.  We want to make certain we are doing our part as a school district to prepare our kids to be competitive as they enter the workforce.  In turn, we want to make sure our region is prepared and competitive as any other place in the country.

Our model says we need to be working on everything from what happens to students while they're in high school all the way through the opportunity to access a baccalaureate degree.  Who dreamed of a system that says students must wait until they graduate high school to start working on their college programs?  To us, if a kid is in high school, we want to get him or her in a higher education/training program.  The idea is to create a new model for education so that we can create a new economy.  Economic development and education are inextricably linked.  If you don't have a relevant educational model, you will never have a strong economy.  For us in eastern Arkansas, we have not always invested in education as we probably should.  What we're trying to do is retool that model so that we can create a viable economic development opportunity for our region and our people.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Career and Technical Education

When Governor Hutchinson took office in January, he made clear one of his priorities:  Arkansas needs to align its education and training with industry needs.  He relayed his message to our state's education leaders earlier this month.  "Whenever you look at the breakdown --56 percent hold a high school diploma -- that is 850,000 Arkansans hold a high school diploma or less.  Fifteen percent hold a technical certificate or less than two years of college; 7 percent hold an associate's degree; 13 percent hold a bachelor's degree; and 7 percent hold a master's degree or higher.  If you take those statistics and apply it to the workforce needs that have been documented for our future, based upon those projected workforce needs, 236,000 adult Arkansans will lack the proper education credentials to be employed."

And leaders are taking these facts to heart.  Colleges and universities are state-wide teaming up with school districts, businesses and industries to fulfill the Governor's goal to get more Arkansans into living wage jobs and, ultimately, strengthen the state's economy.

As the West Memphis School District continue to progress in the efforts of workforce training - it is going to take more understanding and involvement from several groups as we all attempt to make our community and the entire Delta region a better place.  Parents, students, teachers, counselors, principals and community partners all have important parts to play in this effort.

Last week I witnessed three glowing attempts to bring awareness to what our Governor has made a priority.  East Junior High, West Junior High, and Wonder Junior High all held induction programs for their Freshmen Academies.  It is through these academies that the WMSD has started a seminar course to expose students to the priorities of workforce training.  The driving question for every student in every American public school is this --- graduation day is coming....what's next?  College, military service, work.  Regardless of the answer one thing is for certain - a specific skill set is needed for each of these life avenues.

I don't know if there is anything more important we can be concentrating on than how do we make sure our high school kids are graduating and get a job.  It is important for our young people to understand that there are options out there.

The Academies of West Memphis High School and ASU-MidSouth have partnered together to create multiple pathways to add value to the traditional high school diploma.  These pathways (career academies) offer both general and technical classes, such as welding, digital media, diesel mechanics, hospitality management, airframe mechanics, medical professions, machining, etc.

As our state and region industrial leaders are screaming for more advanced, technically trained workers for positions that are frequently difficult to fill -- the WMSD is doing our part to help build a better future for our students and our community through the academies approach.

So, whether you are in 8th grade career orientation student, freshman seminar, or a high school student taking hospitality management or airframe mechanics -- you have the world at your fingertips.  Take advantage of the opportunities before you.  Have a plan and live your dreams!