Connect 4 program is team effort

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Carroll County schools are connecting the dots for their new technical education program, aiming to have it ready for students by fall of 2018.

The program, known as Connect 4, will offer junior and senior students from the Berryville, Eureka Springs and Green Forest school districts the opportunity to pursue a technical education during the school day. The program will be housed in the Carroll County Career Center, formerly the Berryville Readiness Center, and will focus on industrial maintenance, providing students with a cross-curricular background in different trades.

The school districts have agreed to operate the career center together, and one of the first steps will be establishing a board of directors.

Superintendent Matt Summers gave an update on Connect 4’s progress to the Green Forest

School Board at its meeting on Monday, Aug. 21. He said the program is working to find its board members so that they can make important decisions, such as the hiring of a director and administrative secretary, over the next few months.

Summers said the board will include all three superintendents, one board member from each school district and a Tyson Foods representative. The meetings will be during lunch on Wednesdays, he said, and the goal is to have the first board meeting in September.

“Anyone can attend, but there will only be seven voting members,” he said. “We will rotate the meetings between the cities.”

Board president Bud Phillips volunteered to serve on the Connect 4 board as Green Forest’s representative. Eureka Springs superintendent Bryan Pruitt said Chris McClung, president of the Eureka Springs School Board, will be representing the school district on the Connect 4 board. Berryville School Board member Chad Wilson was appointed as Berryville’s representative at the board’s meeting on Monday, Aug. 28.

Pruitt said the Connect 4 board will also be looking for community representatives to pledge their support in order for the schools to obtain grant money. Pruitt recalled when the Eureka Springs School District received a $110,000 grant to develop a greenhouse program last year, saying he hopes Connect 4 will have that same luck. The schools are hoping to get some startup funds from the state Department of Career Education, Pruitt said, which requires support from local community members.

“It’s part of the grant application to get that money,” Pruitt said. “They’re basically writing a letter in support for the grant, and we don’t know what the dollar amount would be. That always depends on what funds they have.”

Summers said there have been two Connect 4 meetings so far, which have focused on finances.

“We have had two meetings with the Connect 4 group so far,” he said. “That includes the three superintendents, Berryville mayor Tim McKinney and a Tyson Foods representative. Those meetings have been about how to establish the cash flow and how to get the money started.”

Tyson Foods has pledged to donate $1.3 million to the program to get it started, Summers said.

“Tyson is ready to turn loose that amount of money, but we had to figure out the best way to handle it,” he said. [Berryville superintendent] Owen Powell contacted the state auditor, and I contacted our attorney. We determined that it would be best to go through the city of Berryville because the city has different regulations as far as spending and bidding. It will be much smoother to go through them.”

Powell said Tyson Foods wants the schools to handle the business side of things.

“Tyson is ready to cut their check, and they’re going to let the schools take care of bidding and cut smaller checks from there,” he said.

Berryville’s finance department will handle the checks for the career center, Powell said, and the money will run through an account similar to a school district’s activity account.

“Every expenditure would go through that account,” he said. “No money has been deposited at this point.”

The school districts will be splitting the cost of the utilities three ways, Summers said, and insurance will go through the Municipal League since the career center is a city building.

“Rent is $1 a year on that building, and insurance would be less than $1,000,” he said. “We will be searching for an instructor soon, and we hope to have somebody in place by December. I think we will be interviewing in November.”

Powell said the superintendents are currently working on a Connect 4 director job description. The schools would each pay equal amounts for the salaries for those positions during the first year of the program, he said, and adjust their contributions in the future based on the number of students from each district attending the program.

Pruitt said they would love to hire someone from Carroll County if possible.

“They don’t have to have a teaching degree. Through that type of workforce education, you get certified through the state of Arkansas,” he said.

Those in technical fields can get certified by the Arkansas Department of Education to become an instructor in their field, Pruitt said, which means they don’t necessarily need to have a master’s degree or a degree in teaching to get the job.

“That’s not to say we may not hire someone with those qualifications, but you don’t have to have them,” Pruitt said. “Basically, we’re looking for someone who will be a great fit to work with the students of Carroll County. We want them to have great training and to help them with employable skills.”

A good instructor, he said, will help sustain the Connect 4 program and bring in a new bunch of students each year.

“It’s a great opportunity for our kids,” Pruitt said. “We want to find a great instructor who is a go-getter and is excited about working with kids because the success of any program depends on getting it started, maintaining it and making it sustainable. Getting the right fit for that job is going to be the critical point in my opinion.”

The Connect 4 board will have to sign off on all decisions for the program, Summers said, so it is important that the school districts establish the board soon.

“Time is becoming an issue, and we will be moving rapidly over the next few months,” he said.

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