During its meeting Thursday, the Arkansas State Board of Education voted 5-2, with two abstaining, to move the Arkansas Governor’s School to Arkansas Tech University (ATU) from 2019-2021.

“Arkansas Tech University is excited to begin its association with Arkansas Governor’s School,” Robin Bowen, ATU president, said in a news release. “It will be our responsibility, in collaboration with our partners at the Arkansas Department of Education [ADE] to serve as proper stewards of this great Arkansas tradition.”

She said ATU looks forward to applying its “institutional strengths” to ensure that AGS remains an “enriching educational experience” for top high school students in Arkansas.

Prior to the vote, the board opened the floor for discussion.

Several expressed concern regarding ATU’s incorporation of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) into the program’s curriculum, including Melissa Sawyer, a 1990 graduate of AGS and the current president of the AGS Alumni Association.

Sawyer said she sent a copy of a petition to each board member.

As of Thursday morning, she said, it had 2,858 signatures and comments from alumni and friends expressing concern regarding ATU’s curriculum plans.

“To put it bluntly, this process in which Tech was selected was a mess,” Sawyer said.

She said the curriculum by Hendrix College was designed by people who understood the needs of gifted students and the alumni association was not sure that the ATU proposal fully understood those needs for gifted students.

Other concerned attendees included Mark Elrod, an instructor at AGS since 1995, who expressed concerns about AGS primarily being a liberal arts school and how the new STEM additions would affect students and their ability to be able to think critically and grow outside of technology — in years prior, students weren’t allowed to bring their computers and could only use phones in their rooms — as well as the intent AGS was originally created in.

“The Arkansas Governor’s School curriculum will maintain its traditional emphasis on arts and humanities,” Bowen said. “The effort to bring AGS to Arkansas Tech was led in part by Dr. Jeff Woods, dean of the ATU College of Arts and Humanities. However, ATU also has facilities that Arkansas Governor’s School participants can utilize to explore topics such as cybersecurity, alternative energy sources, biotechnology, genomics, computer science, mathematical fractals and game design.”

AGS was founded in 1979 by then Gov. Bill Clinton.

For the past 38 years, the school has taken place during the summer at Hendrix College in Conway.

Hendrix is proud to have hosted Arkansas Governor’s School for nearly four decades and hopes it will continue to thrive at its new location,” Hendrix President Bill Tsuitsui said. “I want to thank Dr. Lyle Rupert for serving as director of AGS for the past 12 years, as well as all of the other Hendrix staff who worked to maintain a safe and welcoming environment for AGS students. I would also like to thank those who shared their support for Hendrix and appreciation of our successful history hosting AGS.”

He said the move opens up new possibilities for Hendrix to host other programs on its campus during the summer.

“We look forward to exploring new opportunities that highlight Hendrix’s leading role in inspiring talented students from Arkansas and across the country,” Tsutsui said.

In the meantime, he said, Hendrix will focus on other current projects the campus is working through.

The ADE began the site selection process in the fall of 2017.

Three universities, Hendrix College, ATU and the University of Central Arkansas, all applied to play host to the summer program.

A site-selection committee, 13 members total, was put together and included teachers from across the state, former AGS students and faculty members and others.

The group visited each campus and filled out site-visit evaluations.

ATU was selected by a majority vote, 9-4, according to ADE’s Stacy Smith, who is director of curriculum and instruction.

“The rules allow for this to be a competitive process,” she said. “Nowhere in the rules does it state a university or four-year college that governor’s school is to be held on. It sets up for a competitive site-selection process.”

The committee was objective, Smith said, with 13 people from across the state who she said she believed did their job fairly, despite concerns from community members that they hadn't.

“They reviewed the applications, they visited each site, heard presentations by each of the four-year institutions that submitted applications, scored their own individual rubric sheets and then they cast votes after that,” she said. “The committee followed the rules that was established.”