The Conway Board of Education voted to approve the district’s new community service learning (CSL) plan during its regular meeting Tuesday night.
Jacob Smith, assistant principal at Conway High School, presented the layout to board members and spoke on the lines of how it was going to affect the community and students.
Smith noted he had to first give some background; he said President Barack Obama passed the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015 and in January 2018, the plan for the state was approved by the department of education.
“What the plan does is it provides a little bit of federal accountability for the state of Arkansas in regards to things in which we’re doing in the state and stakeholders within the state of Arkansas had to stay within our specific plan,” he said.
Each school in every district in the state, he said, receives a grade based on several factors, including CSL. In order to receive points on the ESSA School Index for CSL, a plan must be passed.
Smith said with this, students will receive one unit of credit for completing 75 hours of certified CSL during grades ninth through 12th.
“Conway Public Schools wants to foster a sense of responsibility within the community and it wants our kids to really get out there and contribute,” he said.
Smith said Conway is “amazing at that,” with kids currently out there serving already.
“This is going to create a way for us to track that and for us to get it back within the school system and show everybody else how we’re succeeding at that,” he said, noting students will receive credit toward graduation. “We’re promoting a sense of stewardship in our community.”
Smith said one of Conway’s core values is to cultivate community relationships.
“That’s what we’re doing here,” he said. “What better way to foster that than to send our kids out into the community and have them give back. We want to provide our students with real-world experiences and unique opportunities, that’s what this is going to to do and it’s going to encourage them to do that.”
Smith said there will be a process to the CSL approval. He said, from now on, board members will see sites on the consent agenda coming up for approval, requested by the student, submitted through a tier process.
“As you guys approve these sites, they will become available for students to perform hours to acquire these 75 hours,” he said. “This is something that is going to allow our students a way to say that they gave back. It’s going to be on their school transcript forever.”
Board member Diane Robinson asked Smith if the credit was “retroactive,” and if, for example, a kid was on teen court, if the CSL wasn’t approved before, if they still get credit.
“Yes ma’am, as long as the site is approved,” he said. “I’ve gotten word back from the state department in regards to that and they can go back and submit prior hours as long as they have logged and gotten them approve through normal process we’re setting up.”
Robinson also asked if the CSL would be related back to classroom learning in any way?
Smith answered and said three points in which teachers asked for with CSL are that students be able to relay expectations before, take time to reflect after and respond to the time by communicating what they learned while they were volunteering.
“They want us to tie educational standards back into what they’re doing,” he said.
Robinson said this new opportunity gives students, especially those kids who are already working and struggle with time to volunteer, a way to bridge that gap.
Board member Bill Clements said he agreed with Robinson’s assessment.
“As far as the community to allow themselves, I guess, to offer themselves to us or our students, also it would benefit them, but it would benefit the community and not just our students, but I think it’s a great situation for our schools,” he said.
Within the last year, Smith said, the JROTC (Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) logged 7,500 hours of just community service; the CHS Key Club pulled in more than 5,000.
“That gives you guys just a taste of what we’re doing at the high school and junior high level,” he said. “We have great, great kids here and they a lot.”
During the meeting, the board also approved several consent items including the certification of ADE’s Minority Teacher and Administrator Recruitment Plan.
Before the board voted, though, president Andre’ Acklin said he had a few questions.
Acklin asked for an explanation of what that was.
Director Joel Linn said it was an annual report that had to be sent to ADE regarding the numbers of minority teachers and administration that the district employees. He said the plan consists of steps they have come up with the bring those numbers up.
“I know we’re not where we want to be on that, but I was really glad to see this last year, it was a definite year over prior years,” board member Diane Robinson said.
Also heard during the night was, communication specialist Heather Kendrick, who delivered the annual report to the public.
“We have had a wonderful year here in Conway Public Schools,” she said.
Kendrick said enrollment hit 9,974 students, which was down from last year’s 10,001 total.
“What that means for the other numbers on this page is not a lot of difference,” she said. “Our demographic differences are very small.”
Kendrick said their Hispanic population is up a “tiny bit,” African American population is down a bit, slight changes with special programs and free and reduced lunch is up to 49.17 percent from last year’s 49.15 percent.
She said the class of 2018 had 628 graduates, 200 honor graduates and $12.1 million in scholarships awarded.
One page of the report titled “By the Numbers,” Kendrick said, was her favorite because it’s bits of information and random statistics that she gathered all year: 25,344 miles ran by Conway Cross Country Runners; 13,600 steps taken by a CHS administrator and 7,663 by a student; 12,000 rolls of toilet paper, 24,000 paper towels and 200,000 trash bags used; 57,935 kilowatts of electricity used in one month by the district; 1,693 car doors opened at the elementaries in the morning; and 1509 students on 91 different sports teams.
In other news, board members:Approved five student transfers. Approved three resignations and one new hire.