Board members in HAPS roundtable
Board members in HAPS roundtable
Ken McLemore

HOPE – A roundtable discussion and tour at the Hope Academy of Public Service campus had Hope Public School Board members fully engaged with some inquiring eighth grade minds Friday.

Trustees Jimmy Courtney, Denny Dickinson, Mildred Green, Linda Haynes, and Viney Johnson attended the Arkansas School Board Member Recognition Month event during the “advisory” period for eighth graders under math teacher Nina Shepherd.

Board President Willie Buck visited the campus earlier in the week because of commitments Friday; and, board member Jesus Coronado was called away before the session began.

Board members offered a bit of personal background and their school board experience before opening the floor to questions from the students.

Dickinson explained the electoral process for board service in the single-member district system. He said the seven board districts are a change from the past when eight trustees served, but that design was changed legislatively by the Arkansas General Assembly.

Dickinson and Johnson hold the longest tenure on the board at 14 years and 27 years, respectively.

Dickinson said he graduated from Hope High School in 1960 and he is continually surprised by the changes in educational opportunities afforded HPSD students today.

“There are way more opportunities today than when I went to school here,” he said.

The board members also outlined their responsibilities in budgeting district funds, establishing district policy, and hiring district personnel.

The students were particularly interested in recent discussions by the board about the potential extension of the HAPS eighth grade cohort into the ninth grade year at Hope High School. All of the board members emphasized that the idea is being actively considered; but, there are limitations to its implementation.

Haynes emphasized the role of the Arkansas Department of Education in the process.

“In the ninth grade, you have specific classes such as Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry in math; and, the teachers have to have the specific teaching knowledge in those subjects to teach it to you,” Haynes said.

By contrast, Haynes said, HAPS faculty are “certified” to teach by grade level rather than specific subject matter.

“Mister Hooker, who teaches eighth grade, can drop down and teach fifth grade,” she said.

Haynes said the distinction is a matter of law and ADE policy which the district cannot ignore, but must work within as the district gets answers to the questions that need to be resolved.

But, all of the board members present assured the eighth grade students that a plan is being devised to offer them and other incoming ninth grade students those options to allow them to become college and career ready at graduation.

Asked about how eighth grade students will fit in at HHS as ninth graders, Johnson assured them that they will fit in as well as the rest of the student body.

“Wherever you are, you will be safe,” she said.

The board members said recent concerns about student safety at HHS are the exception rather than the rule.

“Fights happen anywhere,” Haynes said.

She said her daughter in the ninth grade at HHS “feels safe at school.”

“There are a lot of good things going on at all the Hope Schools campuses,” Haynes said.

Green said such instances only illustrate the need for all students to understand that their choices produce consequences.

“You need to be responsible for the choice you’re making, because you will be responsible for the consequences,” she said.

Relying on teachers to help outside the classroom is also important, Courtney said.

“Talk to the teachers,” he said. “Let them know what you think.”

Dickinson agreed.

“Everybody here needs to be a leader,” he said. “You need a mindset of a leader.”

Johnson said among the best of her own family experience with the Hope Schools came after her children graduated from high school, and they returned home with a greater appreciation for the teachers who cared for them during their education.

“It’s always wonderful to see the progression of our children,” she said.