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Board Leadership Roots COVID-19 Response

Ken MCLemore

HOPE – School board service is a volunteer activity which reflects the trust a community places in the individuals elected to serve, and it requires a type of leadership that is adaptable and responsive as the COVID-19 health crisis has demonstrated.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson noted such leadership in a Dec. 16 proclamation recognizing the 1,500 local school board members in the state during January as Arkansas School Board Member Recognition Month.

“Local school board members must be committed to the success of our children as they work to ensure that every child thrives with educational programs tailored to meet his or her needs,” Gov. Hutchinson stated. “Arkansas school board members contribute countless hours to fulfilling their roles and responsibilities in setting the mission for their districts; establishing and enforcing policies; overseeing school district finances to ensure alignment with academic and facility needs and goals; hiring and evaluating superintendents; and approving the selection of curricula to make certain that students are offered and taught required courses of study.”

The seven members of the Hope Public Schools Board have actively engaged to reflect Hutchinson’s point as the foundation of the Hope Public School District response to the COVID-19 health crisis through the Board’s policy actions since the crisis arose.

HPS Superintendent Dr. Bobby Hart emphasized the impact the board has provided.

“Our board has been tremendous about supporting students, families, teachers, and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Hart said. 

The opening of the Bobcat Clinic at Hope High School in 2019 with support from the school board in making the case for the clinic to the community and state funding agencies provided a key component to the district’s ability to quickly respond to the rise of COVID-19 within the community.

Hart said the Board’s leadership was critical at that point when all Arkansas schools were closed from March until August, 2020.

““They have been focused upon providing resources and funding to help curb the effects of the shutdown and have been very involved in the reopening and continued operations of our district,” he said.

Through the physical health services provided by the Bobcat Clinic, the HPS has conducted its own mass drive-through testing and continues to offer individual testing for COVID-19 to all students, employees and their families.

The unanimous approval of the school board in the creation of an HPS Official Point of Contact and the expansion of that service to provide official, direct coordination of COVID-19 reporting and monitoring with the Arkansas Department of Health furthered the district’s ability to directly respond to the crisis.

SUSTAINING STUDENTS

Beginning in March, the HPS, with the active input from board members, carried out a massive food services program not only for all students in the district, but for children locally, delivering thousands of prepared and ready to prepare meals in drive-through service. The program, directed by the HPS Child Nutrition Department, incorporated the district’s regular summer meals program model into an on-going service that continues to provide meals for students who have opted to study online. The department, through vendor Aramark Food Services, also maintains daily free meal service to students on each of the district’s six campuses.

PROTECTING EVERYONE

The HPS Board was also actively involved in carrying out a program of personal protective equipment offerings to all HPS students, faculty and employees with the distribution of three face masks to each individual and custom PPE for specific needs. The Board also closely investigated the need for widespread protective cleaning and contracted for services to treat the 600,000-plus square feet of facilities and 43 buses used daily. Regular follow-up treatments have been provided and “deep clean” services performed on all campuses and transportation.

DUAL SYSTEM INSTRUCTION

Creation of the Hope from Home Virtual Academy with Board approval formalized a dual system of instruction which responded to the needs of students and their families. Unified instruction for online and on-campus students through the Waterford and Lincoln Learning platforms allowed teachers to address the same curriculum to both sets of students.

The Board actively supported the use of technology on multiple platforms to quickly train parents, students and teachers in the use of the instructional platforms, and approved the purchase of one-to-one technology for both students and teachers to use on-line and on campus.

TEACHER SUPPORT

COVID-19 created a specific circumstance that stretched teachers, particularly, in the use of their time both on campus and away. Maintaining contact with online students daily and continuing a full day of parallel on campus instruction created pressures which were relieved by the introduction with thorough Board examination of “virtual” days of completely online connection with students and “Flex Friday” where students received needed remediation and teachers planned ahead. In December, the Board also approved financial bonuses for certified and classified personnel in a one-time supplement.

“HPS is fortunate to have a set of seven individuals that work tirelessly together to make a difference in our community,” Hart said. “I am grateful for their leadership both in times of struggle and in times of prosperity.”

Current members of the Hope Public Schools Board include Viney Johnson (Zone 1/Fiscal Representative), Margaret Moss (Zone 3), Jimmy Courtney (Zone 4), Linda Haynes (Zone 5/President), Kathryn Dickinson (Zone 6/Secretary), Alvis Hamilton (Zone 7), and David “Bubba” Powers (Zone 8).

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