Partner School Districts
ForwARd works with three partner school districts to advance various initiatives
Dollarway School District
The Dollarway School District is one of three school districts located primarily in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, while also serving areas in Jefferson County as a result of past consolidations of small rural school districts. The District is currently under state control resulting from academic distress – all three schools were assigned a state letter grade of “F” in 2018 as a result of each school’s score in the Arkansas Department of Education’s Public School Rating System. Another challenge the District faces is declining enrollment with only 958 students enrolled in the 2017-18 academic year down from 1,075 the year before and 1,346 in 2013-14. The District’s students are predominantly African American (91 percent), and 93 percent receive free and reduced lunch.
ForwARd began working in Dollarway through their contract with the Rural Community Alliance (RCA), a non-profit partner focused on rural development and sustainability, charged with conducting community planning meetings and developing a community plan for the area served by the District. Through ForwARd’s support, RCA has hired a part-time community coordinator to begin implementing the community plan, which is focused on three priorities: student supports, family supports, and health and wellness.
Currently, ForwARd is collaborating with the Dollarway School District and the Arkansas River Education Cooperative—an intermediate service unit, located in Pine Bluff, established by the State Board of Education to serve six districts in Arkansas County, Grant County, and Jefferson County—to begin planning for establishment of a community school in Dollarway. While several Arkansas districts have models that are similar to community schools in that they provide student and family support programs, this would be the state’s first true community school with a dedicated community school coordinator. ForwARd’s work is part of a broader initiative to connect partners, including business leaders, faith leaders, and others, as well as resources like expertise and human capital to the community in Dollarway.
Earle School District
The Earle School District is located in Crittenden County in Eastern Arkansas, near West Memphis in a narrow strip between the Wynne and Marion School Districts. The District was taken over by the state in November of 2017 after a negative financial audit. A small District with an enrollment of only 545 students, Earle faces several academic challenges as well – the state letter grade system assigned both of the district’s schools a “D” in 2018 as a result of each school’s score in the Arkansas Department of Education’s Public School Rating System. The District’s students are predominantly African American (97 percent), and 95 percent receive free and reduced lunch.
Following the State’s intervention, the Arkansas Commissioner of Education asked ForwARd to work with the District similarly to the way in which ForwARd is working to support the Dollarway School District by connecting partners, including business leaders, faith leaders, and others, as well as resources like expertise and human capital to the community in Dollarway. The first step has been to prepare an asset map for the District, showing the strengths and resources of the community in order to help uncover solutions for issues the community is facing.
Upcoming efforts include a series of community meetings to develop a District plan that address community needs. For example, the District also faces high teacher turnover due to more competitive teacher salaries in surrounding districts. To begin addressing the turnover rate, the District hopes to improve access to resources such as a full-service grocery store and housing options for early career teachers.
Earle is also interested in exploring the community school model, in which the school provides student and family support programs alongside traditional academic curriculum.
Little Rock School District
The Little Rock School District is the state’s second largest school district with an enrollment of 22,338 students. The District is diverse with 63 percent African American, 18 percent white and 15 percent Latino students. More than two-thirds (67.4%) of the District’s students are eligible for free and reduced lunch. The Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) took control in 2015 when six of the Districts’ 48 schools failed to meet school improvement goals in 2014. The District is working to open new schools to serve students in the western areas of the community, and it is consolidating some schools within the District that have lower enrollments and outdated facilities.
In April of 2018, ForwARd Arkansas – alongside the District and the Clinton School of Public Service – released a new toolkit aimed at boosting academic achievement among middle school students. In September of 2017, a group of practicum students from the Clinton School of Public Service began conducting best-practices research on successful school-community partnership models from around the U.S. They used this research to develop a toolkit that would serve as a guiding mechanism for implementing hands-on, project-based learning at District middle schools. Specifically, the practicum students focused on eight Little Rock middle schools and how community partnerships could help improve academic success. ForwARd Arkansas played an integral role serving as the community organization that connected the practicum students with the schools. After the success of the partnership, ForwARd was invited back to continue this work in the District for another year.