Benton resident helps students, teachers achieve greater success

By Wayne Bryan Published June 29, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Rhonda Warford, a native of Benton, serves the Benton Harmony Grove School District as coordinator of mandatory standardized testing. In other words, she is charged with helping students, teachers and parents better prepare for these annual tests.

In today’s education atmosphere, there is a lot more to running a school system than just teaching classes that excite young people to learn.

Students are tested, and teachers, principals and administrators are held accountable with serious — and sometimes extreme — consequences. So it is important that the right people are in charge of the process.

In the Benton Harmony Grove School District, that person is Rhonda Warford. The Benton native is district coordinator of mandatory standardized testing for the school system under the Arkansas Consolidated School Improvement Plan.

She makes sure teachers help students prepare for the annual testing and that all goes well for the students and the schools.

Warford, who has been a teacher in almost every elementary and middle school grade, as well as head of a special reading program and the district’s gifted and talented students, said she is not sure standardized tests are the best measure of what a child learns.

“Some students get nervous about [mandatory, standardized] tests,” she said.

“The teachers get nervous, too, and some of them pass that along to the students, and it makes them anxious. The kids are not dumb. They have an understanding of what’s at stake here for the students and the entire school system.”

Knowing about that anxiety, Warford is careful to make sure the testing process goes smoothly for students and teachers.

Not only does she oversee the testing; she is involved in the professional development of the faculty, so Warford can help teachers relieve or at lease hide the stress they feel about the annual student tests.

“For many, the stress just builds through the year as the time grows closer,” Warford said.

“I don’t know if I could go back to the classroom again.”

Warford said she has taught every grade from second through sixth, starting in Morrilton with the South Conway County School District, then at Harmony Grove.

The veteran teacher uses her experience to help teachers in today’s classrooms.

She misses working directly with students in the classroom, she said, especially with the best students who are placed in the gifted-and-talented program.

“I like being in the classroom, and the G&T kids were great,” Warford said.

“They were eager to learn. They were like sponges, soaking up all you could give them.”

As a young girl, Warford was not one of the girls who always wanted to be a teacher. She had another ambition — to be a cowgirl. And she was for a while.

“I went to college on a rodeo scholarship,” she said. “I appeared in the College Rodeo National Finals,

competing in barrel racing and goat tying. I also played basketball in high school.”

The Vilonia native attended Arkansas State University, first in Beebe, then at the main campus in Jonesboro. Warford said her parents and a sister still live in Vilonia, but they were spared any serious damage in the tornado that came through the city in April.

It was on the weekends between rodeo performances that Warford learned to love teaching.

“I liked kids, and I taught Sunday School,” Warford said. “That’s when I first thought about teaching.”

She performed in some rodeos around the area after she was out of school and married, but Warford quit soon afterward.

“I got a job and didn’t have time, and I didn’t have the right kind of horse,” Warford said. “My rodeo horse got old, and I had had a child.”

Warford left Morrilton and moved to Benton with her husband in 1983, she said. She became a teacher at Harmony Grove in 1986.

“That first year, I was a long-term substitute,” she said. “Then I taught the third grade and the gifted-and-talented students.”

After six years in the classroom at Harmony Grove, she moved to administration.

While Warford was growing up, her family had a small grocery store on the outskirts of Vilonia, and she said her mother taught her about customer service while she was very young.

“I was told the customer was always right,” Warford said, “so you bite your tongue and shut up.”

That training helped when she and her husband took over the Kreme Kastle on U.S. 270 several years ago.

The eatery, along the road to Hot Springs, has been a fixture for the locals and travelers for many years. The establishment doesn’t even have a sign.

“It blew down when my husband’s grandparents ran [the place],” Warford said. “[The sign] was on top of the building, and it was too hard to put back up. I never noticed that it hurt business.”

She said that in the summer, the place is busy with travelers to Hot Springs, Lake Hamilton and Magic Springs park.

“We took it over three years ago and mostly cleaned it up,” Warford said. “We also made sure the workers were polite.”

Warford said the location is known for its burgers and ice cream.

“They are the old-timey, thick, juicy, greasy burgers,” she said. “We make our own patties and smoke our own meats. We have barbecue and the best banana milkshakes. Everything is fresh.”

Warford said she enjoys being in the Kreme Kastle and visiting with the customers. While she said she can retire soon from the school, she said the enjoyment of the work keeps her going. She also admits that the thought of being a short-order cook or building milkshakes and other ice cream treats all day keeps her going to school.

“That’s hard work at the Kastle,” Warford said.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or at wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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