List released of those chosen to help state implement LEARNS law

Springdale School District Superintendent Jared Cleveland (left) and Cabot School District Superintendent Tony Thurman are shown in these file photos from June 2020 and October 2021, respectively. (Left, NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe; right, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

The Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education has published the selection of individuals for three of six work groups that will provide ideas, expertise and feedback to the state agency on the implementation of the Arkansas LEARNS Act.

Selected are members for the career readiness, educator workforce and parent empowerment work groups. Still to be announced are members of the school safety, early learning, and teaching and learning work groups.

Each of the three work groups for which members have been named is made up of two or more subcommittees of about 10 members each.

Members include employees of traditional public school districts, open-enrollment public charter school systems, private and parochial schools, as well as university personnel and business community leaders.

Springdale Superintendent Jared Cleveland is a member, as are Bentonville Superintendent Debbie Jones, Jonesboro Superintendent Kim Wilbanks and Cabot Superintendent Tony Thurman.

Gary Newton, executive director of Arkansas Learns organization; Phillip Baldwin, a retired banker and member of the state's charter authorization panel; and Patrick J. Wolf of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville are among the members, as is former state Board of Education member Charisse Dean who is employed by the Family Council.

Teresa Hall , superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Little Rock, and Gary Arnold, chief executive of Little Rock Christian Academy, are also among the selected members.

The LEARNS Act, or Act 237 of 2023, is Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders' signature legislation to revamp prekindergarten through 12th grade education in the state. LEARNS stands for literacy, empowerment, accountability, readiness, networking and safety.

Multiple sections of the omnibus act -- which became law March 8 -- require the development of rules for carrying out the law.

The elementary and secondary education division put out a public invitation for membership on the work groups. About 1,300 people responded by the March 31 deadline, agency leaders have said.

State leaders have said that the work groups will help with the drafting of rules, which ultimately must be reviewed and approved by the governor's office, the Arkansas Board of Education and a legislative committee.

Information about the work groups and the members are available for public viewing on a recently developed agency website:

Meetings of the work groups are to be both virtual and face-to-face, and those selected must agree to commit the time needed over the next few months, according to the website.

Work group members

Following are the members of the work groups, listed by subcommittee:


Andy Ashley, Heber Springs School District.

Brett Bunch, Brookland School District.

Gary Newton, Arkansas Learns.

Jennifer Feeny, Van Buren School District/District Conversion Charter School/River Valley Virtual Academy.

Lauren Throneberry, Arkansas Virtual Academy.

Lori A. Smith, eStem Public Charter Schools.

Nicole Stephens, Arkansas Connections Academy.

Patrick J. Wolf, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

Phillip Neal Baldwin, Citizens Bank CEO, retired.

Timothy Ray, El Dorado School District/ El Dorado High.

Tracie Jones, Office of Education Renewal Zones at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.


Charisse Dean, Family Council.

Chelsie L. Sturdivant, Alma School District.

Cynthia S. Fong, mom of three with special needs at Private/Public Charter Schools.

Debbie Jones, Bentonville School District.

Gary B. Arnold, Little Rock Christian Academy.

John “Skipper” Ward, Magnolia.

John Spencer, West Side Christian School.

Kristen Hargett, Moms for Liberty, Benton County.

Misty Newcomb, Prism North America (formerly Prism Education Center).

Monica Daniels, Cornerstone Christian Academy

Stephanie Nichols, Homeschool parent.

Theresa Hall, Catholic Schools of Arkansas.


Alicia Dean, Westside High School.

Ashley Peterson, Arkansas Connections Academy.

Carmen Martin, Foreman School District.

Julie Workman, Arch Ford Education Service Cooperative.

Leann Pinkerton, Bauxite School District.

Gary Bunn, University of Central Arkansas.

Lora Dyann Hendrix, South Conway County School District.

Tanya Sharp, Bentonville School District.

Tiffany Graven, Parkers Chapel School District.

Tony Thurman, Cabot School District.


Amy Sanchez, Siloam Springs School District.

Beth Shumate, Magazine School District.

Brandi Williams, PEER Network/Crowley’s Ridge.

Bryan Duffie, Alma School District.

Cayce Neal, Northwest Arkansas Educational Service Cooperative.

Chris Moss, Nettleton School District/Nettleton Junior High School.

Holley Andersen, Fayetteville School District.

Laura Shelton, Conway Christian School.

Nathan Morris, Cross County School District.

Suzanne M. Rogers, M.Ed, LISA Academy Public Charter Schools.


April Evans, University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.

C. Neelie Dobbins, Southern Arkansas University.

Corey Renee Johnson, Arkansas Education Association.

Curtis Cunningham, John Brown University.

Daniel Cisar, Arkansas Connections Academy.

Elizabeth Joy Queathem, Meekins Middle School/Stuttgart School District.

Pharis Smith, White County Central School District.

Sara Beth Stewart, De Queen High School.

Stacy Allen, Cabot School District.

TeKyesha Gault Anderson, University of Central Arkansas College of Education.


Aaron Duvall, Responsive Education Solutions.

Amanda McIntyre, Magnolia High School.

Amy Hardy, Greenwood School District.

Anne Martfeld, Pea Ridge School District.

Donald Westerman, Lake Hamilton High School.

Jared Cleveland, Springdale School District.

Jennifer Turner, Guy Fenter Education Service Cooperative.

Kevin Tipton, Cabot Board of Education.

Scott Howie, Northark Technical Center.

Sheila R. Jacobs, Arkansas Tech University.


Aaron Chastain, Northwest Technical Institute.

Christie Lewis, Virtual Arkansas.

Erin S. Finzer, University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Jasmine Wilson, South Conway County School District.

Ken Beach, Arkansas State University-Newport.

Kim Wilbanks, Jonesboro School District.

Lindsey Forga, Bryant School District (Bryant High).

Lisa Hotsenpiller, Fayetteville School District.

Markous Jewett, Little Rock Regional Chamber/Academies of Central Arkansas.

Stacey Southerland, DeQueen-Mena Education Service Cooperative.


Carol Surber, Trumann Middle School.

Christy Reynolds, Camden Fairview High School.

Courtney Lincoln, Forward Arkansas.

Jennifer Morrow, Bentonville School District.

John Keeling, Dardanelle School District.

Justin Neel, Caddo Hills High School-Caddo Academy Charter.

Kelly Boortz, Don Tyson School of Innovation/Springdale School District.

Kelly Shannon Puckett, South West Education Cooperative.

LeAnn Helms, Manila High School.

Lee Wayne Smith, Mena School District.

Lori Cingolani, Lakeside School District/Chicot County.

Nicole Gatewood, Cabot School District.

Shantele Raper, Rivercrest School District.