Good Things in a Small, Rural School District

Good Things in a Small, Rural School District

Is the community school model viable in small, rural school districts? Community Resource Innovations (CRI) and the Rural Community Alliance (RCA) believe the answer is a resounding yes!  Recently, Jerri Derlikowski and Maria Jones, both of CRI, and Candace Williams, from RCA, traveled to the Southside Bee Branch School District to visit school leaders. The group discussed the amazing array of programs and services provided to local students and families in the small community. The visit was prompted by positive feedback from the National Community Schools Coalition and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.

South Side Bee Branch School District is a small, rural school district in Van Buren County, Arkansas. The district has approximately 500 students and is located on Highway 65 between Greenbrier and Clinton. An example of the district’s rural nature could be seen when it posted alternative snow routes for buses. One of the bus routes, which were described by the driver’s name instead of a route number, stated, “Mr. Jim Hopper’s bus will meet at the Café on top of Bee Branch Mountain at 7:20 and old Caldwell Feed Store at 7:30.” This prompted an inquiry from a parent about students who might not be able to get “down” to these locations.

The district was once part of the Schools of the 21st Century initiative of Yale University. (This not the same as the federal funding program for out-of-school services, called 21st Century Community Learning Centers.) According to the website for the Yale program, “Arkansas and the School of the 21st Century (21C) [initiative] have a long history. The first 21C site in the state, Paragould’s School of the 21st Century, was established in 1992. Other schools in Arkansas expressed an interest in the program, and in 1997 the Yale Center for Child Development and Social Policy started working on a statewide presence in Arkansas with the Arkansas Department of Education. Additionally, the Ross Foundation made a substantial investment in the Arkadelphia school district to enable district-wide implementation and outreach to the wider community.”

The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation initiated a five-year partnership with Yale University to support the development of a statewide 21C network, beginning in the fall of 2001. The Foundation built on Schools of the 21st Century to address early care and the ongoing education needs of children in Arkansas. Five years later, when the funding ended, many of the schools continued to operate the original programs or newly developed programs modeled on the same principals. About 20 Arkansas schools, including the South Side Bee Branch district, participated.

The 21C initiative, as part of the Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy at Yale, has been a proponent of the community school model. The Zigler Center is represented on the steering committee of the national Coalition for Community Schools.

Deb Swink was at the South Side school district during the 21C grant period. Ms. Swink is now the special education director at the Clinton School District. She is also a member of Yale University’s The School of the 21st Century Leadership Council and serves as a national trainer for the Mutt-i-grees Curriculum. She has recently been appointed as a Senior Associate and National Trainer for the Yale School of the 21st Century. Mutt-i-grees is a learning curriculum using interactions with shelter animals to build social and emotional skills in students.

Ms. Swink says that South Side Bee Branch did not implement the full community school model with a community coordinator. But, staff within the South Side schools adopted that function by building resources at the school and connections to programs off-site. It was an informal way to accomplish the same purposes. The best thing about the 21C work was periodic phone calls with schools from around the country to share new ideas, according to Ms. Swink.

In our meeting, the staff members shared a lengthy list of programs and family resources in the district that they organize, manage and access.

Examples of South Side campus programs and resources include:

  • Boston Mountain Rural Health Center
  • Outpatient mental health services through Methodist Family Services School-based Counseling Program
  • Students transported for services to a dental clinic in nearby Clinton
  • Pre-K
  • Infant-toddler care for teachers/staff – the community also has an Early Head Start program
  • Food pantry for students on weekends and breaks
  • Hygiene product pantry in the boys’ and girls’ restrooms
  • Student mentoring programs where selected high school students help younger students with homework and social problems
  • Community Service Learning class
  • EAST lab

The school works with the community to meet needs through businesses, churches and community organizations. The district has revamped some of its old WPA-era buildings and built new ones through income brought to the community as a result of the shale-oil boom. This has created space to house pre-K and health services. Although the shale-oil boom era is closing, the district has used the opportunity to invest in their school facilities. A large part of the district’s success in meeting student needs has been through collaborative efforts to create new solutions, seek grant funding and integrate the surrounding community into school programs and services.

The Arkansas Coalition for Community Schools and ForwARd Arkansas have joined together in partnership to support the development, and implementation of Community Schools in Arkansas.

Rural Community Alliance’s 15-Year Movement

Rural Community Alliance’s 15-Year Movement

Celebrating 15 years of rural advocacy, Rural Community Alliance reflects on its accomplishments and looks toward the future.

Rural Community Alliance is a nonprofit organization with 2,200 members in 66 chapters across Arkansas. The following video highlights some of its work over the past 15 years since it began engaging rural residents to become advocates for rural Arkansas schools and improving Arkansas communities.

About Rural Community Alliance

Rural Community Alliance is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to helping rural schools and communities survive and thrive.

The Arkansas Coalition for Community Schools and ForwARd Arkansas have joined together in partnership to support the development, and implementation of Community Schools in Arkansas.

The ForwARd Partnerships at Little Rock School District Toolkit

The ForwARd Partnerships at Little Rock School District Toolkit

The following is an excerpt from The ForwARd Partnerships at Little Rock School District Toolkit:

The ForwARd Partnerships at Little Rock School District Toolkit provides step-by-step processes that teachers and administrators in the Little Rock School District (LRSD) can use to develop school-community partnerships. There are several types of partnership models, including service-learning partnerships, wrap-around service partnerships, and volunteer-based partnerships to name a few. However, this toolkit is designed to facilitate the development of any type of school-community partnership.

At the time of the creation of this toolkit, the LRSD central office tasked each of its middle schools with developing a project-based learning partnership with an organization in the community. The district’s definition of project-based learning reads:

Project-Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge. Buck Institute of Education, 2018

Research has shown that creating school-community partnerships can increase student retention, engagement, and academic success. Project-based learning, in particular, was selected to foster higher order thinking, innovative problem solving, and workforce preparedness.

It is important to note that through the Partners in Education program all of the middle schools in the Little Rock School District have existing partnerships with community organizations, including: churches, banks, insurance agencies, local universities, youth mentoring programs, and more. The number of partnerships and the nature of the partnerships varies greatly from school to school.

While Superintendent Poore and Dr. Whitehorn recognize and value that many partnerships already exist, they believe there is still a need and an opportunity to create more formalized school-community partnerships that are positioned to make systemic change by retaining students in the district, creating more engaging and relevant course-work, and fostering community buy-in in the middle schools; this tailored school-community partnership toolkit will aid in the creation of these formalized partnerships.

Start Using the Toolkit Today


Check out The ForwARd Partnerships at Little Rock School District Toolkit to start building school-community partnerships where you live.



The Arkansas Coalition for Community Schools and ForwARd Arkansas have joined together in partnership to support the development, and implementation of Community Schools in Arkansas.

Communities Create New Vision for Education, Opportunity in Arkansas

Communities Create New Vision for Education, Opportunity in Arkansas

By Kathy Smith, Walton Family Foundation Senior Program Officer
For most of her senior year at Batesville High School, Somyr Strickland led a double educational life.

By day, the 17-year-old Arkansas native was a 12th grade student studying English and Math and preparing for her high school graduation with her fellow classmates. By night, she would head to the University of Arkansas Community College-Batesville (UACCB) campus to learn the life-saving skills of an emergency medical technician, from splinting techniques to spine immobilization and bleeding control.

It was, Somyr admits, a “very demanding” schedule. But her hard work paid off.

On May 8, 2017, Somyr graduated from UACCB with her certificate as an EMT. Four days later, on May 12, she walked across the stage at Batesville High to receive her diploma.

“I would not be where I am at today if I didn’t have the opportunity to take those college classes while being in high school,” Somyr, now 18, says. “It was tough. But if you stay focused and don’t get sidetracked – and you know what your end goal is – you can achieve anything.”

Somyr’s experience was made possible through a collaboration between UACCB and the four school districts in Independence County, Arkansas. It allows high school students to concurrently take college credits or career training at the community college. It’s part of a larger effort by community leaders in Independence County and across Arkansas to better prepare students for success after high school, whether they pursue higher education or immediately enter the 21st century marketplace.

Another major goal: To create a better-educated, skilled workforce that attracts high-wage employers to the state.

“For us, everything comes down to having an equipped workforce,” says Jamie Rayford, the chief operating officer for the Batesville Chamber of Commerce, which has led efforts to forge the educational partnerships between Independence County school districts and UACCB.

“Whether a student graduates high school and goes immediately into the workforce, or goes to university, we want them to be equipped and trained and ready,” Jamie says. “We know the only way we can keep our talent here is to attract companies that have great-paying jobs. You can’t attract the companies if you don’t have a trained workforce that is well equipped and ready to go to work.”

To develop the educational partnerships between county school districts and the community college, local officials worked closely with ForwARd Arkansas, a statewide organization formed in 2014 to develop a modern, comprehensive vision for education in the state.

Forward Arkansas is a partnership between the Arkansas Department of Education, the Walton Family Foundation and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. After a year-long consultation process – that included focus groups and surveys with 8,500 people – the group developed recommendations for improving student achievement and closing the achievement gap, from pre-school through high school.

Batesville was one of the first five cities – including Crossett, Marianna, Pea Ridge, and Springdale – designated as “Forward Communities” and tasked with developing individualized plans to implement new educational strategies.

In Independence County, qualifying students – those with high grade point averages and test scores – are eligible to take community college courses beginning in 11th grade.

They can take general college credit classes or career-specific courses in fields that include welding, industrial technology, plumbing, nursing, plumbing, cosmetology, and others. In the last academic year, more than 180 Independence County high school students took college courses.

“The fact is, we need a robust high school program that is ready for the global economy,” says Susan Harriman, Forward Arkansas’ executive director. “Education improvement is the driver for creating a state with strong employment that attracts and retains talent.”

Forward Arkansas helped forge relationships between Independence County’s school districts, build educational capacity and consulted with county leaders on how to implement the region’s plan.

Somyr is one of the early success stories. While growing up, she developed an early interest in a healthcare career because several family members – including her father and uncle – worked in the field.

Entering her senior year, she witnessed a car accident and rushed to the assistance of the injured driver.

Somyr knew she had found her calling – and jumped at the opportunity to earn her EMT certification while still in high school.

Since August, Somyr has been working as a licensed EMT with Vital Link, an Independence County-based emergency medical services company.

This fall, she enrolled again at UACCB and is studying to become a paramedic.

“This program has been my saving grace. I am at least a year ahead in terms of being able to reach my goal, just because I had the chance to go to community college as I was finishing high school,” Somyr says. “I am able to do exactly what I love. When I wake up in the morning and I am getting ready for work, I cannot wait to get out that door. To me, that is such a special thing.”

The Arkansas Coalition for Community Schools and ForwARd Arkansas have joined together in partnership to support the development, and implementation of Community Schools in Arkansas.

The Best of All Worlds for Students

The Best of All Worlds for Students

The Office of Innovation for Education, University of Arkansas, led an Arkansas group to visit a set of high-tech learning opportunities on a regional campus in Michigan. ForwARd Arkansas sponsored our participation.

In the regional campus concept, students attend the regional campus only part of the day while remaining enrolled at their home school. “Home school” means the public school closest to where they live. The students take afternoon classes at their home school, participate in athletics through their home school and graduate from their home high school.

The home school benefits by having enrolled students that cost them substantially less, because about two-thirds of the classes the students take are paid for by the regional programs. Two of the regional programs are even provided at no cost to the home school. The home school pays a fee for the online learning program, but it is less than the state foundation-level funding per student.  The home school transports the students to and from the regional campus.

The regional program supports and protects the student’s home community.  In many cases, participating students are ones the home school would have lost: they are disengaged, about to drop out, or planning to attend another school through choice. The regional program allows students to connect with real-world, state-of-the-art learning in a way not possible in most local high schools. It also allows students to remain connected to their community and their home school classmates.

The sophisticated career and technical equipment include items such as virtual reality programs and robotic machines for manufacturing. The faculty includes professionals in a field of work who later become teachers as a second career. The expense to make these options available would be unaffordable for most districts on their own.

Where exactly is this efficient and effective arrangement? It’s in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Similar programs exist elsewhere, but this one stands out because so many stellar components are located on one campus. Michigan, like Arkansas, has a regional structure, in which a group of districts is a member of an “intermediate school district” or ISD. In Arkansas, we call these ISDs “educational service cooperatives.”

Kent ISD

Kent Intermediate School District, or Kent ISD, serves 20 public districts, as well as charter schools and parochial schools. Kent ISD offers part-day programs, allowing students to move between schools and programs to meet their personal learning goals while remaining connected to their home schools.

On campus, Kent ISD offers three main programs or schools and provides a host of related supports and opportunities on and off campus:

  • Kent Career and Technical Center
  • MySchool@Kent
  • Kent Innovation High School
  • Kent Student Support Network (community school coordinator)
  • Community college coursework

Kent Career and Technical Center

The Kent Career and Technical Center (KCTC) is housed in a 300,000-square-foot facility. A millage funds the equipment and much of the staff. Grants and business partnerships also contribute to the funding.

This video gives a good glimpse of how it all happens:

The students that travel to KCTC arrive from their home school for two sessions, taking place 6:55-11:30 a.m.  Each session lasts 2 hours and 15 minutes. A third session is available from noon to 2:15 p.m.

Students attending KCTC are mostly juniors and seniors who have completed the bulk of their core courses during their freshman and sophomore years at their home schools.  Students may return to their home schools in the afternoon for remaining core courses or use MySchool@Kent to complete their required credits. Sophomores can attend one session: a STEM overview course, called Design Lab.



Robotic manufacturing equipment.

KCTC has 23 state-approved programs at participating sites, including:

  • Aviation Maintenance Technology and Avionics, and Aircraft Electronics, located at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport
  • Precision Machining, located at Grand Rapids Community College’s Applied Technology Center, with easy access to advanced equipment and evening classes at the college
  • Health Sciences Early College Academy, with biomedical technology courses located at Grand Valley State University’s Cook-DeVos Center and therapeutic and diagnostic healthcare professions courses located at the Downtown Market
  • Hospitality and culinary programs, located at the Downtown Market

On the Kent ISD campus, KCTC provides programs in:

  • 3-D animation and game design
  • Applied construction technology
  • Auto collision repair
  • Automotive technology
  • Criminal justice
  • Design lab
  • Diesel and equipment technology
  • Engineering and architecture design
  • Entrepreneurship and marketing
  • Graphic communications
  • Health careers
  • Heating, air conditioning and refrigeration
  • Hospitality and culinary programs
  • Information technology
  • Mechatronics
  • Sustainable agri-science

One of the best examples of the quality of the programs can be seen in the digital technology program’s 3-D Autism project. This program is a national finalist in Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow contest.

Kent Innovation High School

The Kent ISD campus also includes a New Tech Network school, Kent Innovation High School, that has expanded the traditional New Tech program. (Arkansas, too, has New Tech school programs — for example, the New Tech program at Cross County school district.) The small Kent Innovation High School, with about 100 students per class, provides core classes in the morning. Students return to their home schools in the afternoon for electives and extracurricular activities, riding the same buses as the KCTC students. Amway provided funding for much of the cost of facilities and equipment.

In this YouTube video, students describe their experience at the school:


One example of the student project-based learning at this school shows how students connected ideas from three classes. In history class, students studies World War II, in English class they studied dystopian literature, and in science class they studied gene editing using CRISPR. (CRSPIR is “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats,” which is the hallmark of a bacterial defense system that forms the basis for CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology.)

Students were asked to write an example of dystopian literature based on a prompt, such as, what if Hitler had access to CRISPR? They were also asked to write about various ethical concerns about the use of CRISPR addressing the potential for good and for misuse.  Their answers included lessons learned in all three classes.


MySchool@Kent (MS@K) is an online, personalized-learning school.  Students physically attend class two times per week at the Kent ISD campus. This works well for a variety of students who may work, have children, are caregivers, want to accelerate their classes, travel extensively for sports activities, or need classroom credit recovery.

The school also serves students who have been expelled or have long-term suspensions. Students participating for disciplinary reasons don’t attend class at the ISD campus. MS@K serves them and other students at the downtown YMCA and the downtown library, where teachers work with the students

The primary software used for MS@K is APEX and eDynamic. Teachers can adjust or supplement the curriculum externally. For example, an English teacher facilitating the online learning requires students to write four essays a year, in addition to the software’s programmed learning activities. Students take part in goal setting and are monitored for keeping pace. In addition to the certified teachers participating in MS@K, three coaches and one interventionist are available to make home visits if students are falling behind.

Kent Student Support Network



Photo credit:

Kent ISD is also a community school, in which teachers refer students to the Kent Student Support Network (KSSN) and the community school leader is embedded in the school team. KSSN works to reduce inequity and disparity for vulnerable students throughout the Kent ISD. Services include:

  • Assistance with food security
  • Assistance to students who are parents, including day care arrangements
  • Health services, including dental and mental health
  • Help with housing needs
  • Help with tutoring
  • Other individual student needs


Kent ISD wasn’t designed for the convenience of adults, institutions, or the community. Kent ISD was constructed to address student aspirations and provide opportunities that allow student flexibility while maintaining excellence. In short, Kent ISD meets students where they are, with a multitude of options. Every student can learn. Every student can succeed.

The Arkansas Coalition for Community Schools and ForwARd Arkansas have joined together in partnership to support the development, and implementation of Community Schools in Arkansas.

Share This