Innovation is key to improving the quality of education in Arkansas communities. In the past two years, promising areas of innovation for Arkansas schools have emerged from ForwARd’s work throughout the state.

Community Schools / Support Outside the Classroom

Arkansas’ poverty levels can hinder students’ academic progress. On the 2017 ACT Aspire test, which maps learner progress from grades three through high school, 33 percent of low-income children performed at or above grade level (meeting or exceeding on third grade literacy), while 62 percent of their higher income peers performed at or above grade level.

Additional student and family supports beyond the classroom are needed to address this challenge. The community schools model and supports outside the classroom are exciting areas of innovation for ForwARd.

Studies have shown that the community school model is a viable solution to meeting the unique needs of rural schools. Through community partnerships, community schools connect students and their families to assistance and resources, including healthcare, before- and after-school enrichment programs and free meals during the school day, to name a few. By bringing families and the community together, community schools have the potential to bridge the limited resources many rural communities experience. For example, if a school partners with a local health center, students can see a pediatrician during the school day, which is beneficial for the entire family.

ForwARd is currently working with several partners to develop a unique regional community schools model to provide critical support for small rural districts.

Building Community and School Leadership Capacity

Experienced, successful school leaders and educators are critically needed in many school districts across the state. Small, rural and low-performing schools often have the most inexperienced leadership and key roles go unfilled. Circumstances related to quality of life and lower salaries can limit applicants to leadership positions and prompt successful new leaders to move to other districts.

ForwARd will work to address this need in our ForwARd Communities by meeting leaders where they are – providing professional development opportunities that equip local teachers and community members for leadership positions, including school- or district-level leaders or school board members.