De Queen educator Beau McCastlain honored

Teacher of the Year praised for instilling student pride

Beau McCastlain receives a medallion and plaque from Karli Saracini of the Arkansas Department of Education  after being announced as a finalist for the Arkansas Teacher of the Year on July 27, 2023. McCastlain was named Arkansas Teacher of the Year today at De Queen High School.(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)
Beau McCastlain receives a medallion and plaque from Karli Saracini of the Arkansas Department of Education after being announced as a finalist for the Arkansas Teacher of the Year on July 27, 2023. McCastlain was named Arkansas Teacher of the Year today at De Queen High School.(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)


Beau McCastlain, a television production teacher at De Queen High School and communications director for the De Queen School District, was named Monday as the 2024 Arkansas Teacher of the Year.

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Arkansas Education Secretary Jacob Oliva announced McCastlain's selection in a trip they made Monday to McCastlain's classroom where his students were about to edit video.

McCastlain, who previously received $2,000 for being one of 14 regional finalists and one of four state semifinalists in the annual Teacher of the Year competition, will now receive an additional $14,000 from the Walton Family Foundation. He is eligible to apply for the National Teacher of the Year program.

The 45-year-old teacher will begin his one-year tenure as Arkansas Teacher of the Year on July 1, 2024. In the role, he will travel the state for a year promoting his platform and representing teachers. He also will serve as a non-voting member on the state Board of Education.

McCastlain is credited with establishing his school's student-run DQTV television production program and promoting a culture of school pride as his media students highlight their school and community.

Additionally, McCastlain has built partnerships with the local radio station and the Arkansas Broadcasters Association, which have resulted in paid internships and freelance opportunities for his students. His students have received state and national recognition for their work, the Arkansas Department of Education said in announcing McCastlain's selection.

McCastlain shared credit for the program's successes.

"It's nothing you can bottle up," he told the Texarkana Gazette. "It's our people. It's what you can achieve when you come together for a common goal. Any success we have had is because we have the greatest students."

McCastlain started his career in 2001 as a photojournalist at KTHV Channel 11 in Little Rock. He also worked for KARK Channel 4, KLRT FOX 16, KHOG/KHBS 40/29 News and KATV Channel 7.

He has been an educator for 14 years -- since 2009 -- serving as a teacher, head baseball coach and assistant football coach in the Foreman School District before moving to the De Queen district.

"Beau McCastlain is everything we could ask for in an Arkansas teacher: someone who puts student success first and foremost, someone who thinks outside the box to get his students excited for their future careers, and someone who leverages his expertise to create new, exciting opportunities in the classroom," Sanders said in a prepared statement.

"I look forward to working with him as he travels our state to promote expanded career and technical education, as well as the other reforms my administration is making like higher teacher pay, universal education freedom, and science-based literacy teaching," Sanders said.

The naming of the 2024 Teacher of the Year comes after the Arkansas LEARNS Act or Act 237 was introduced by Sanders and passed by legislators earlier this year.

Provisions in the law to revamp public education raised the base teacher salary from $36,000 to $50,000 a year, created the Educational Freedom Account system in which some $36 million of taxpayer funding will go to tuition and other private-school-related costs this year, and repealed the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act that provided teacher job protections. Other provisions call for hiring of 120 literacy specialists for work in the state, the creation of tutoring grants for families, the retention of some struggling third-grade readers, and the formation of a career-ready pathway to graduation.

LEARNS stands for literacy, empowerment, accountability, readiness, networking and safety.

The state application for the 2024 state teacher honor differed from past applications by referencing a specific state law, which generated some criticism.

"What positive impact do you expect LEARNS to have for Arkansas students?" the 2024 application asked, and "As the 2024 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, you serve as a spokesperson and representative for teachers. If selected, please describe your proposed platform and how it relates to the Arkansas LEARNS law."

Oliva, the state's education chief, congratulated McCastlain in a prepared statement.

"He not only teaches his students the skills of the trade, but he also connects them with real-world opportunities in the community around them," Oliva said.

McCastlain has a bachelor's degree in communications and a minor in computer information systems from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. He has a master's degree in educational leadership and administration from Southern Arkansas University at Magnolia. He is certified to teach social studies for grades seven through 12 and holds a technical permit for television broadcasting.

The other three state semifinalists for the 2024 honor were Kassadi Seidenschnur, a library media specialist for grades kindergarten through five at Hurricane Creek Elementary in the Bryant School District; Nicole Franklin, an English-language arts and social studies teacher for grades four and five at Orr Elementary School in Fort Smith; and Jeremy Kennedy, an Advanced Placement language and composition teacher at Greenbrier High School.

Capri Salaam, of North Little Rock Middle School, is the 2023 Arkansas Teacher of the Year.

Information for this article was contributed by Josh Snyder of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


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