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story.lead_photo.caption Bentonville School District administration building.

BENTONVILLE -- The School District has assembled a task force to provide guidance on opening schools this fall.

Superintendent Debbie Jones announced members of the 11-person task force at Tuesday's School Board meeting. The group includes doctors, district administrators, the Bentonville police chief and an elementary school parent.

"That will be the body that follows the direction of the governor and the Department of Health to advise the district on how to reopen schools," Jones said.

The task force will take the state's guidance and tailor it to the district's needs, she said. It will hold its first meeting online May 29.

It's unclear how often the group will meet, but Jones speculated it would be about once a month. A group chairman hasn't been chosen, she said.

Bentonville's schools enroll nearly 18,000 students. The coronavirus pandemic led the state to close all public schools to in-person instruction in mid-March.

Jones said she's been pleased with the direction the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has provided schools during the pandemic. She cited as an example the department's guidance on in-person professional development events for school employees.

"Any issues we have of concern, they've taken back and tried to address," Jones said.

Eric White, board president, urged his fellow board members to trust in Jones' leadership and not to pick a side in the debate over how and when to open schools.

"My encouragement to you is to trust the leadership, continue to hear the open communication that will come to you, and to know that our kids' and our community's safety is our priority, but getting back to normal as fast as possible is also a priority for our kids. We want to do that in the safest way possible," White said.

Jones has taken an "extraordinary" step in bringing together the task force "so it's not just the district's voice, it's everyone's voice that is going into the reopening plan," White said.

The district meanwhile is working on meeting staffing needs for next school year. The board on Tuesday unanimously approved administrators' request to add three classroom teachers and the equivalent of eight full-time kindergarten aides to the district's payroll to meet anticipated enrollment growth.

One of those teacher positions and one of those kindergarten aide positions will be held in reserve and will be used only if needed, said Dena Ross, the district's chief operating officer.

Kindergarten classrooms in Arkansas normally are capped at an enrollment of 20 students. Adding an aide to a kindergarten classroom allows a school to have up to 24 students in the class.

"That prevents us from having to overflow students out to other buildings, and in a couple of our buildings, that's going to be pretty important," Ross said.

In other personnel news, former University of Arkansas quarterback Ty Storey is returning to Northwest Arkansas to teach science at Grimsley Junior High School. Storey will also coach football and basketball.

Storey played a few seasons for the UA before transferring to Western Kentucky University before last season. He led Western Kentucky to a win over Arkansas in November and a bowl win in December. He's a nephew of Jones.

Hiring Storey was one of a long list of personnel moves the board approved Tuesday.

Grimsley is opening this fall as the district's fourth junior high school. The process of hiring for the school is going well, Ross said.

Schools Task Force Members

Steve Goss, president of Mercy Clinic Northwest Arkansas

Lisa Low, medical director of community health at Mercy Hospital

Matt Taliaferro, chief executive officer of the Boys & Girls Club of Benton County

Deb Keith, Bentonville Schools coordinator of nurses

Cindi Marsiglio, Walmart

Steve Vera, Bentonville Schools director of safety and security

Jon Simpson, Bentonville police chief

Melissa Ralston, food service representative

Don Hoover, principal of Lincoln Junior High School

Thomas Rice, Bentonville Schools technology director

Tatum Aicklen, Evening Star Elementary parent

Source: Bentonville School District

NW News on 05/20/2020

Print Headline: Bentonville district forms opening task force

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