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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVE PEROZEK Susan Chambers (left), Arkansas Board of Education member, speaks Friday with eighth-grader Tristan Greek as fellow board member Fitzgerald Hill looks on during the board's visit to Pea Ridge Middle School. The board spent much of the day touring schools in Pea Ridge and Decatur, one day after holding its monthly meeting in Springdale.

DECATUR -- State Board of Education members got to observe teaching practices and speak with students and staff members as they toured two Benton County school districts Friday.

They spent the morning in Pea Ridge, hopping school buses to travel from one building to another in the district of about 2,200 students.

Arkansas State Board of Education

Members of the state Board of Education and where they live:

• Jay Barth (chairman), Little Rock

• Susan Chambers, Bella Vista

• Charisse Dean, Little Rock

• Fitzgerald Hill, Little Rock

• Kathy McFetridge, Springdale

• Sarah Moore, Stuttgart

• Ouida Newton, Leola

• R. Brett Williamson, El Dorado

• Diane Zook, Melbourne

Source: Arkansas Department of Education

Then they ventured west to Decatur, where Superintendent Steven Watkins welcomed them to one of the state's smaller districts. Decatur has 542 students.

The board's day of tours followed Thursday's monthly meeting, held at Springdale's Tyson School of Innovation.

Johnny Key, state education commissioner, was one of several Department of Education officials who accompanied board members on their Northwest Arkansas trip. The board likes to get away from its meeting space in Little Rock occasionally to see what's happening in other parts of the state, he said.

Jay Barth, board chairman, said the board observed three very different school districts -- Springdale, Pea Ridge and Decatur -- in two days.

"That's really been incredibly helpful in terms of thinking about how education operates in this corner of the state," Barth said. "And even in a place that has a lot of commonalities in some ways, it's a very different, diverse operation."

Board members dropped in on Decatur literacy interventionist Heidi Nance's classroom, where Nance sat at a round table with six young students giving a phonics lesson.

After reviewing what the suffix "ologist" means -- an expert in a particular field of study -- Nance held up a black cowboy hat.

"So if I studied this hat, what would I be called?" she asked.

"A hat-ologist," the students replied in unison, drawing giggles from the board members.

They went on to visit a gifted and talented classroom, a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher's room and a new gym at the middle school that opened last year.

Watkins emphasized to board members the importance of the state's academic partnership program in helping the district to build the gym and address other facility issues.

"The academic partnership money is really the only way we can provide up-to-date facilities," he said.

Board members sat down to chat with Decatur students and staff members. Barth raised the topic of diversity in the district, which is nearly 40 percent Hispanic. He asked the students how that diversity plays out in the schools.

"Here in Decatur we usually all get along," said Lauro Molina, a junior.

Board member Susan Chambers asked the students what they like about school and what they'd like to change.

Samantha Skaggs, a senior, said she likes the small student-to-teacher ratio. She said she'd like to see more programs aimed at helping students learn about college scholarships and the college admission process.

Board members were joined by a few dozen community members and other educators from the region during their morning tour of Pea Ridge schools.

That tour included the Pea Ridge Manufacturing and Business Academy, a district-run charter school that offers students training and experience in specific career paths.

Nathan Wood, a senior, is in the marketing and logistics pathway at the academy. He told visitors his teacher, Cathy Segur, makes it easy for students to understand how what they're learning in class applies to the real world.

"She'll line up what she's teaching us with the business trips that we go on," Wood said. "So she'll teach us something about marketing, and then we'll go see how a company markets to different clientele."

The high school tour also included a stop at The Nest, a student-run shop that opened in 2017. It sells school apparel, coffee and other items. It has a door to an interior hall and another door to the outside so it can be accessed during football games.

"This is a huge thing," said Jamie Rappe, assistant principal, about the store. "We have some unique items here you can't get anywhere else."

NW News on 03/16/2019

Print Headline: State education officials tour northwest districts

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