Great Berryville Rollout: City dedicates new career center to Connect 4 program
At the Great Berryville Rollout on Wednesday, city and school officials unveiled the new Carroll County Career Center, which will be the home of the Connect 4 program.
Mayor Tim McKinney dedicated the Berryville Readiness Center, a former armory for the National Guard, for use as a career center for local students, handing the keys to the superintendents of the Berryville, Eureka Springs and Green Forest school districts.
The school districts have agreed to run the Career Center for their junior and senior students who are interested in pursuing a technical education. Tyson Foods has been instrumental in taking the plan to the implementation stage, donating $1.3 million to the project to get it started. Mike Rogers, instructor at the Career Academy of Siloam Springs, was hired by Tyson Foods as a consultant in order to draft a business plan for the Connect 4 program.
Plans are for the Carroll County Career Center to be operated by the three Carroll County school districts with a focus on industrial maintenance and provide students a cross-curricular background in different trades.
Rogers said the goal is to set up a machine shop in the old armory building similar to the shops found in the area.
“Berryville and the surrounding areas have a strong machining background,” he said, “and we’re looking to have funding that would allow the facility to be updated and equipped to have those modern-day pieces of equipment.”
He said classrooms will be set up on the sides of the building, and the spaces on the peripheral sides and back will be for material handling and welding. He said the three school districts will pay equal amounts for the salaries of the instructor and an administrative secretary, who will check students in and out and make sure vendors and guest speakers are there.
“The philosophy here is that a school district this size cannot get 50 plumbers, 50 electricians and 50 machinists,” Rogers said, “but they can get 50 general people who will have cross training. This program is all about awareness and exposure to the skill trades.”
He continued, “I call this scenario a ‘win-win-win’ because the student wins, the community wins and the employer wins.”
Green Forest superintendent Matt Summers said he was honored and humbled to be involved in the implementation of the Connect 4 program.
“Education is the key. It will unlock the door, but you have to walk through the door. Education along with hard work will help you achieve things you believed were not possible,” Summers said. “I’m very honored and thankful to the Green Forest board members here today to acknowledge this accomplishment and where we’re going. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to lead your district.”
He said there has been a lot of hard work and discussion behind the scenes on how this program is going to work and thanked Tyson Foods for stepping up in a big way.
“Mark Twain once said ‘If you’re a leader and no one is following you, you’re just taking a walk,’ ” Summers said. “There are a lot of leaders in the room today with a lot of followers, and we’re all going in the right direction for the students of Carroll County and the Green Forest School District. I would like to say ‘thank you’ to all of you and thank you for this opportunity.”
Berryville superintendent Owen Powell said he is very excited for the Connect 4 program and thinks it is going to create great opportunities for the students of Carroll County.
“I’d really like to thank Mayor McKinney, the city of Berryville, Tyson, Mike Rogers and all three school boards for making this idea possible,” he said.
Eureka Springs superintendent Bryan Pruitt said the Eureka Springs School District is honored to have the opportunity to join Connect 4.
“We’re in this for the kids of Carroll County,” he said. “We’re excited about it and happy about it. We just want the best for our kids.”
Also at the event, city and University of Arkansas Extension Service officials presented “Berryville Works 2020: An Economic Development Blueprint and Action Plan.” Chris Claybaker, director of Berryville economic development, said that when he first came to Berryville, he and McKinney had a lot of conversations about the expectations and vision for the economic development program.
“It became apparent that he was interested in an economic development program that would continue on for his kids and grandkids,” Claybaker said. “In order to do something like that, you have to have community involvement.”
As a result, he said the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and the Winrock Foundation guided community leaders in a discussion of community assets and their vision for Berryville’s future.
“We wanted to focus just on what was positive about Berryville,” Claybaker said. “Around April 2016, Dr. Mark Peterson, director of the Breakthrough Solutions Program of the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, came onto the scene and helped guide us the rest of the way in developing an economic development blueprint.”
While the city was working on the economic development blueprint, the National Guard closed the armory and deeded it to the city, he said. McKinney wanted to see the building be used for economic development and helping local students. The idea was developed into the Connect 4 program, which fit into the Education and Workforce Development component of Berryville Works 2020, Claybaker said.
He said they started looking for programs similar to their vision and found the Career Academy of Siloam Springs run by Mike Rogers.
“We hadn’t found any others that would work. When Tyson got involved, it went from planning to implementation,” Claybaker said. “Today, we’re here celebrating something you don’t see very often: this innovative program for career and technical training.”
Congressman Steve Womack was the featured speaker for the event and complimented the vision for the future demonstrated by both the Berryville Works 2020 and Connect 4 programs.
“To me, everything you are doing today is about securing the future of your communities, your county, your region and your state,” Womack said. “I want to compliment you for having the vision to see through the smokescreen of a lot of other things going on in the present day to see what’s important for the future.”
Things get much better when someone has a job, he said, and the work ethic is present in Carroll County to create good jobs with high-earning potential through the new “visionary” workforce education program.
“This is a model for what should be done around our country,” Womack said. “Everybody in here should be collectively patting yourselves on the back for doing something that’s going to strengthen the economic foundation of the greater Carroll County region.”
He continued, “I want to thank you on behalf of the countless thousands of young people who are going to benefit from this program.”