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Education notebook

by Cynthia Howell | February 3, 2016 at 3:00 a.m.

Grant lets schools try online program

Learning Blade, an online program that uses a game format to familiarize middle school students with careers in science, technology, engineering and math, is now available to Arkansas schools on a pilot basis.

The Arkansas Public School Resource Center, which provides support to the state's rural school districts and charter schools, is using a $40,000 grant from Gov. Asa Hutchinson's office to enable as many as 30 schools to try out Learning Blade at no cost, said Barbara Hunter Cox, the center's director of teaching and learning.

The supplemental curriculum is built around challenges, or "missions," such as predicting a flu outbreak, building a Haitian orphanage or upgrading a city's energy system. Pupils identify and learn about the professions and the tools that would have a role in accomplishing the mission.

The process is designed so that students can see ­real-world applications of math, science and other skills, and do that at a time when they are beginning to make preferences and decisions that will affect their career choices.

Tennessee STEM Innovation Network has made the Learning Blade available to all Tennessee middle schools. The program is also being used in the District of Columbia and in schools in nearly two dozen states, Sheila C. Boyington, president of Thinking Media of Chattanooga, Tenn., said in an interview.

Learning Blade is a product of Thinking Media.

Training for teachers in the program takes less than two hours and can be done online.

Arkansas schools can request a license to use the interactive, web-based program at

District adjusting attendance zones

The new Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District will use 2016-17 elementary school registration data that were collected last week to begin determining how to adjust attendance zone boundaries for the eight elementary campuses.

District leaders plan to propose zone changes and hold a town hall meeting on those proposals later this spring -- before asking for School Board approval.

District leaders are not granting transfer permits to other schools within the district until the attendance zones are final. The lack of transfer permits was a concern to parents at the Jacksonville/North Pulaski School Board meeting Monday. The parents want their children to continue to hold transfer permits to attend their current schools.

School Board President Daniel Gray said in response that he would support allowing pupils to be grandfathered into attending their current schools, if space is available and a majority of the board agrees.

Some changes to the attendance zones will likely be necessary because the new district is detaching from the Pulaski County Special School District, effective July 1.

Approximately 230 students who live in the new district but attend Pulaski County Special schools outside Jacksonville will be returning to their district of residence. Another 290 Jacksonville residents attend schools in Jacksonville other than their attendance-zone school because of transfer permits issued by Pulaski County Special. Those permits will expire in May, putting those students back in their attendance-zone schools.

"The goal we are always working toward is to ensure all campuses, regardless of their location in the community, provide quality instructional programs," Gray told the audience.

Jacksonville hires 9 to aid principals

The Jacksonville/North Pulaski School Board has expanded the list of employees for the new district to include assistant principals.

The board, which already hired seven of the eight principals needed in the district, this week approved the hiring of Tracy Holland, Demetrius Parker and Sandra Ray to be elementary school assistant principals in the 2016-17 school year.

Kenneth Miller, Renee Parker and April Turner were hired to be assistant principals at Jacksonville Middle School. Terrod Hatcher, Katrina Mimms and MaryeJane Brockinton were selected to be assistant principals at Jacksonville High School.

Brockinton is currently a principal in the Searcy School District, and Miller is a teacher in the Little Rock School District. The other hires are current employees in the Pulaski County Special District, from which the new Jacksonville/North Pulaski district will detach on July 1.

Education official gets another title

Arijit Sarkar, the Arkansas Department of Education's director of information systems, was recently named chief information officer, as well.

As part of the agency's research and technology division, Sarkar leads a team that manages the operations, development, and maintenance of the state agency's education information systems, including the Statewide Information System and School Performance Report Card.

With his additional role, Sarkar will manage the agency's information assurance program, develop policy for the protection and control of information, sustain business continuity for information technology operations and lead the agency's information technology planning process.

Sarkar has worked for the Education Department since 2008. He was formerly a graduate research assistant at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock from 2006 to 2008. From 2003 to 2006, he was an assistant manager for Everest Industries Ltd., an ACC Group Company in Calcutta, India.

Sarkar has an engineering degree from the University of Pune in India and a master's degree in information quality from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He has received numerous Microsoft and IBM certifications.

Metro on 02/03/2016

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