It takes a village: Berryville superintendent seeks community input

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

"The purpose tonight is to start a dialogue. I'm not asking for anything but your input," Berryville School District Superintendent Dr. Phil Clark told an assembly of teachers, school board members, administrators, parents and community members last Thursday night.

Clark said he gathered everyone in an effort to create a 20- to 25-person school-community relations committee. After the meeting Thursday night, he said that 25 people, including three high school students, had signed up for the committee.

The committee, Clark emphasized at the meeting, is his way of bringing the community together to address the future of the Berryville School District. According to Clark's strategic plan, he hopes to address four critical areas: communication, curriculum and instructional programs, student achievement and facilities.

"How well are you informed as a community?" he asked, noting that he wants the community to know about anything from the school's finances to its curriculum. Regarding the curriculum, he relayed a story about his son's struggles with math.

His son, he said, was required to take Algebra II and was flailing. Clark said he helped his son learn the material and pass the class.

"My wife and I pulled our hair out trying to help him. Now he has a full scholarship to Arkansas Tech, but if he hadn't passed algebra he wouldn't have graduated," he said. "To me, there's something wrong with that."

With so much focus on college readiness and required state testing, Clark believes students are not learning the best way. He described his own struggles in college. Clark said he initially wanted to major in science. But when he took a physics class, he said he quickly realized that he had been taught to take tests rather than to comprehend.

"Science was my best subject in high school. Everything I learned was vocabulary and there was no depth at all," he said, adding that he had to teach himself trigonometry to pass that physics class with a B. "The point is, if I was going to go to college and major in science, you'd think I'd have a better depth of knowledge on it. How can we change curriculum instruction to better fit the needs of our kids?"

He also discussed facilities, noting that the current kindergarten class is so large that the intermediate building won't be capable of housing all those students in three years. The school can add a few classrooms onto the existing school, he said, or build a new building

While adding classrooms would cost less, Clark said that the school needs to focus on the best long-term solution.

"It costs me $437,000 to add classrooms. Right now, we can afford another $4 million in debt if we choose a new building," he said.

He said the school has many options regarding facilities and curriculum and that he could come up with a plan himself."

But that's Dr. Phil's plan. I want it to be our plan," he said.

"We can create whatever we want. We don't have to go down the path we have for the past couple years. We can change that," he said.

He said after the meeting that he hopes to gather the committee sometime this week to determine how to move forward.

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