Our work with the five ForwARd Communities is at the heart of our strategy to engage and empower residents as partners with the most at stake for the education of children and youth in their communities. Working together we build on the assets of each community, providing technical assistance and facilitating community planning designed to empower and give voice to all community members. Our goal is to stimulate innovation that brings new ideas and approaches to bear on the pressing challenges facing communities, energizing opportunity and growth, and serving as examples for other communities.
During this first year:
- ForwARd Communities are creating detailed strategic plans for community engagement with school systems, with particular emphasis on communication with students’ families. These Communities will serve as demonstration models for other communities throughout the state to effectively engage local resources in support of students’ and their families’ needs.
- ForwARd Communities have already begun sharing best practices for community engagement with one another.
- Plans for our communities include expanding the opportunity for communication among the five and for developing a tool for local leaders to use as they lead efforts in their own communities.
- Crossett: ForwARd has convened a diverse array of both formal and informal leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors and helped them to craft a first draft of their ForwARd Crossett strategic plan. This plan is focused on long-term, systemic improvements to the education system and how the community can best support students. ForwARd also hosted a back-to-school fair which connected more than 80% of students enrolled in the Crossett School District and their families to ForwARd’s Vision.
- Independence County: Working in concert with the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce and its IMPACT Independence County initiative, ForwARd convened more than 1,500 community members to learn from experts representing Arkansas state agencies, community colleges, universities, and industry leaders in educational innovation. In the weeks following, all four local school districts finalized strategic plans for collaborating with one another and achieving their own success. They are now preparing to implement those plans from the grassroots up.
- Lee County: Building on recently completed work funded by the Carl B. & Florence E. King Foundation, ForwARd has led a group of key community leaders through the process of drafting their ForwARd Lee County strategic plan. When finalized, this plan will feature long-term initiatives focused on systems change which can be owned and implemented by members of the community. ForwARd also hosted a back-to-school barbecue which brought together institutions of higher education, small business owners, and elected leadership alongside students and their families.
- Pea Ridge: ForwARd has invested in technical expertise and experienced research professionals to assist the Pea Ridge School District in planning for its future as the growth of the Pea Ridge community continues steadily. A series of Visioning and Listening sessions are underway. Efforts to benchmark objectives are also in process. In addition, ForwARd is sharing the story of the Pea Ridge Manufacturing & Business Academy, a conversion charter school within the district that focuses on cutting-edge career-technical education and embeds both hard skills and soft skills into an academic standards-based curriculum. This innovative model has the potential to spread all across Arkansas as well as the nation.
- Springdale: ForwARd is providing technical assistance to the Springdale School District as it launches #SpringdaleReads – a multi-year effort to ensure that every Springdale student reads on grade-level by the end of third grade and that the community cultivates a “culture of literacy.” Education leaders from throughout the Springdale community are also working, with the guidance from ForwARd, to refine strategies for deepening connections with the Hispanic population and making new connections with the unique and growing Marshallese population in the area. Springdale is working to identify resources for social workers and for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. As part of their work to connect with community, the district is reconvening its Community Council.
In our roles as catalyst, convener, partner, and truth-teller, ForwARd will continue to advance our efforts in 2018.