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story.lead_photo.caption Melissa Sawyer (left), president of the Arkansas Governor’s School Alumni Association, listens Thursday to an announcement about the decision to move the Governor’s School. Arkansas Tech President Robin Bowen is in the foreground. - Photo by John Sykes Jr.

Arkansas Tech University in Russellville will host for the next three years the Arkansas Governor's School, a state-funded summer program for 400 gifted high school seniors that has been housed for its first 38 years at Hendrix College in Conway.

The Arkansas Board of Education voted 5-2 Thursday to uphold the final recommendation of a Governor's School site selection committee. That committee took a somewhat rocky path to reach a 9-4 vote to recommend the Arkansas Tech proposal over proposals on location and curriculum from Hendrix College and the University of Central Arkansas.

The site selected for the program is entitled to a $640,000 state grant. The selection is for three years conditioned on annual successful evaluations.

More than a dozen speakers -- including Arkansas Tech President Robin Bowen, two legislators, a mayor, and former Governor's School students and faculty members -- made their cases for either the Tech site or the Hendrix site before the Education Board vote.

Speakers in support of continuing the program at Hendrix argued in large part that the Tech curriculum proposal is too narrowly focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM subjects, to the detriment of the liberal arts and critical-thinking features that were hallmarks in the Hendrix-based program.

Other concerns listed by former faculty and alumni from the Hendrix program included the lack of mentally stimulating field trips and after-hours activities in the Tech plan, the lack of a full-time year-round staff member apart from the admissions officers to coordinate the summer program at Tech, and Tech's plans for the housing of students and faculty members in the same campus facility.

Also noted were Tech's plans to offer a four-week program versus the typical six-week program at Hendrix -- where students are allowed to use their cellphones only in their dorm rooms.

"The Arkansas Tech University faculty ... developed a curriculum that I believe maintains the historical emphasis on arts and humanities," Bowen told the Education Board. "If you read through the proposal, there are still sections on things like instrumental music, theater and literature."

"They did take a critical look at emerging technologies," she said about the planners, adding that everyone who was at Thursday's meeting most likely carried with them electronic devices. "It is pervasive in our society, and I believe it is very important for individuals -- especially our young people -- to analyze the personal and sociological implications as well as the ethics associated with the technology."

Jeff Woods, the dean of Tech's College of Arts and Humanities, who helped with the design of the proposal, said Tech's approach was to add a tech twist to the liberal arts core of Governor's School, not to replace it with technical education. Arts and humanities, as well as the sciences and professional track programs, are necessarily integrated, Woods also said, and any separation of those should be rejected.

He also said that the Tech proposal adheres to the requirements of state rules for the Governor's School curriculum.

Others who spoke for the Tech proposal included Sen. Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, Russellville Mayor Randy Horton and Russellville School District Superintendent Mark Gotcher.

Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, in his remarks to the board, objected to the site selection process in which Hendrix received the highest number of cumulative points from the committee members who used a rubric to evaluate each application. That was largely because one committee member gave 39 more points to Hendrix than to Tech. But the Tech plan won a 9-4 vote of the selection committee members and the final recommendation.

Highest number of points typically wins, Rapert argued.

He also told the board that it was not obligated to accept the site selection committee's recommendation.

"I support STEM. I support workforce education," Rapert said. "That's wonderful but, guess what, we're doing that all over the state. What about those high performing students who need to have intellectual curiosity explored? We do need to have those kinds of programs in place. What's happening is you are taking away from the state of Arkansas that sort of program, which has worked very, very well over the last 38 years."

Melissa Sawyer, president of the Arkansas Governor's School Alumni Association, presented the board with a petition in support of the Hendrix-based program signed by 2,858 people.

Davis Hendricks, legislative advocate for the Arkansans for Gifted and Talented Education, said in a statement that Governor's School has been a research-based program that is specifically designed to give gifted and talented students the opportunity to explore ideas and develop thinking, social and communication skills in a stimulating but safe environment. Any change to that nearly 40-year-old model is a concern, he said, and called the Tech plan an experiment with no track record for success.

Education Board members Brett Williamson of El Dorado and Diane Zook of Melbourne voted against the motion to approve the Arkansas Tech proposal. Williamson said that late oilman Charles Murphy of El Dorado was instrumental in the development of the Governor's School and never intended for it to be anywhere but Hendrix.

Board members Susan Chambers, Sarah Moore, Ouida Newton, Kathy McFetridge and Fitz Hill voted for the Tech plan. Board Chairman Jay Barth, a Hendrix faculty member, recused from any involvement in the issue. Board member Charisse Dean acted as chairman and did not vote although she said she found the process used for the selection to be open and fair and not done just for the sake of change.

Chambers agreed there was "a lot of noise" in the selection process and that the board was asked to make a decision without input from the selection committee on why one site was favored over the others. Still, she said the selection committee vote was not close. She urged that Arkansas Tech in the development of the curriculum and hiring of faculty take into account the work that has been at Hendrix to create what she called " a hybrid solution."

Arkansas Tech University's proposal calls for a four-week program, from July 7 to Aug. 3, for about 400 high school seniors. Courses will focus on "exploring how technology has shaped our society's development and explore possible future developments."

In additional to a specialty program in cybersecurity, there will be courses in geonomics, energy resources over time, technology in fisheries and wildlife techniques, creative writing, literature, film, anthropology and the Ozarks/Ouachita region, math and the biological science, the math of cryptography, music/drama/ visual art.

"The benefits of technology, as well as its challenges and ethical dilemmas will be studied," the proposal states. "Classroom activities will be collaborative and project-based. Students will put the information into social and political contexts."

Metro on 09/14/2018

Print Headline: Tech selected to take over Arkansas Governor's School; Hendrix had been host for 38 years


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  • LR1955
    September 14, 2018 at 6:31 a.m.

    Absolutely terrible photo leading this article. ArDemGaz, why do you often choose photos that show the subjects in a bad frame of mind?

    September 14, 2018 at 7:33 a.m.

    Isn't this interesting: You essential update an article from yesterday which had a number of comments, but since this is, apparently, a new article all of the comments from yesterday get dumped. Of course, most of the comments supported the Hendrix model. Or is it that the page selector at the bottom is just not working today?

  • RBear
    September 14, 2018 at 7:39 a.m.

    The selection process was HEAVILY weighted towards STEM which I fully support in our schools, but not in the Governor's School which is supposed to expand thinking in a critical sense. One of the biggest challenges in our world today is having people think critically about problems and work towards solutions. Sitting down and learning cybersecurity doesn't provide critical thinking. Maybe after several years of understanding the context of the problems, but definitely not out of the blocks.
    Giving students the chance to explore problems from a more abstract viewpoint is what we need from our leaders, which starts with student leaders. For once, I actually agree with Rapert on this subject and it's a weird POV for me. But he's exactly right on this matter. The committee basically said, "We want STEM" and that was the end of it regardless what the rubric scored at.
    That being said, there are some aspects from the Tech plan that are more focused on logistics that Hendrix failed to address. It seems Hendrix needed some feedback and this could have been the wake-up call for them. They seem to have a good academic program, but logistically they may have failed in the process. The comment about creating a hybrid program of the academics and logistics is what seems to be needed. I actually wish UALR would bid for the program since they now have dorms VERY close to campus.

  • RBear
    September 14, 2018 at 7:40 a.m.

    mbaiv welcome to the D-G website. That's the way it's always been, even under the old model. You learn to deal with it. But it does keep the conversation fresh instead of just piling on.

  • glesnick
    September 14, 2018 at 8:17 a.m.

    MBAIV - We frequently post updates throughout the day. Some of those make the next day's print newspaper and some don't. But in all cases — regardless of whether there were comments or what the comments said — the print story that appeared in the paper gets a new online story page with a new comment forum. It's fine to disagree with that process, and we do take reader concerns/complaints into consideration as we consider future changes to the website. But I just want to make it clear that that's the existing process for all stories, and nothing differently was done here. The story from yesterday is still accessible, and its comment forum is also still live. You can access it at

    Gavin Lesnick
    Senior online editor
    Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

  • MaxCady
    September 14, 2018 at 9:47 a.m.

    RBear, great point, you're absolutely right and Hendrix maybe could have paid a little more attention to technology in their curriculum. It just sucks for a lot of people, including my wife, who not only went to AGS, but has taught there for 26 years. It's like a death in the family for them. Rapert really did make an impassioned plea to keep it in Conway. But as usual politics rule the day. LR1955, I was sitting right behind Melissa and after the vote that's how everybody on the Hendrix side felt!

  • LR1955
    September 14, 2018 at 1:04 p.m.

    The Arkansas Governor's School (also known as Arkansas Governor's School for the Gifted and Talented or AGS) is a six-week residential program offered to rising seniors in the state of Arkansas. The school, which typically accepts around 400 students, takes place on the grounds of Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. Modeled after the North Carolina Governor's School, it was founded by governor Bill Clinton in 1979.

    Twice each week is a required speaker. Speakers at Governor's School have ranged from Rudy Giuliani, Michael Shermer, and Phyllis Schlafly to Temple Grandin and James Loewen. During the beginning years, then-governor Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary Clinton gave speeches and held small meetings in order to improve the normal school experiences. Once each week is a required film, the first of which is usually Koyaanisqatsi.

    The curriculum at the school is broken up into three areas:
    Area I, which is similar to a college major. Students choose from one of eight areas of study[1] (English/Language Arts, Visual Arts, Choral Music, Instrumental Music, Mathematics, Natural Science, Social Science, and Drama).
    Area II, also known as conceptual development, which focuses on epistemology. Many Area II teachers are (or were) philosophy, history, and English majors.
    Area III, which is also known as personal and social development. Topics covered in Area III classes are growth mindset, emotional intelligence, and stress management.[2]
    There are two other "areas," Area IV and Area V. Area IV consists of the residential staff (Resident Assistants, or "RAs," as well as the Head Residents of the various dormitories), whereas Area V consists of the office staff.

  • mrcharles
    September 14, 2018 at 1:41 p.m.

    Williamson said that late oilman Charles Murphy of El Dorado was instrumental in the development of the Governor's School and never intended for it to be anywhere but Hendrix.
    Thomas Jefferson had thoughts on the future mammals being bound by the thoughts and intents of past mammals in the binding forever of the wishes of those who "must be obeyed".

    I did shed a tear over rapert...who need to have intellectual curiosity explored? We do need to have those kinds of programs in place. Now I must protest, I think clearly he did not mean that about the explored, as that would allow thinking by these children and his type is really not into that happening which might rock the boat of supernatural mumbo jumbo and of course the hocus pocus of the ones who know what we are not allowed to know.

  • JKM47
    September 14, 2018 at 1:57 p.m.

    Although Arkansas Tech asserts its proposed curriculum is not intended a minimization of -- but an equal integration of STEM into -- the 38-year core curriculum of the Governor's School, the respective, advertised curriculums of the two institutions -- and in Tech's case, its very name -- is illuminating and contradicts that dubious supposition. The "gifted and talented" that are selected for participation in the Governor's School are carefully chosen as the most likely candidates from among their peers to develop critical thinking and leadership skills, not their particular ability to excel in the mechanics of STEM subjects. As a result of this "jumbling" of curriculum, students will no longer be chosen for the aforementioned attributes, but for their "mechanical" abilities, a clear distortion of the archival purpose for which the school was intended. Bottom line is that the caliber of nationally ranked Hendrix trumps that of Arkansas Tech and the consequences of that are manifested in faculty, curriculum, and presentation of curriculum of the institution hosting the school and clearly affect the viability of the program. The state has been -- and should have continued to have been -- rightfully proud to boast its partnership with a school of the stature of Hendrix, but the selection committee appears to have caved to politics in this downgrade, and the bright, young minds that it so fervently attempts to keep in-state are now deprived of the best the state has to offer. The old adages "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" and "only in Arkansas" appear to be alive and well in this instance, both to the detriment of the state and the best of its youth.

    September 14, 2018 at 3:23 p.m.

    Mr Lesnick - some of your stories simply show an update date/time and continue under the same headline and including the original content below the update. In those cases the comments remain. I just wondered why the new story, which was largely the same as the old one, was added to with an update with readers' comments retained. Oh, well. I see that many of the folks are making similar comments again. A bad decision by the state will continue to draw bad reviews. thanks