Arkansas Success Story: Hutchinson commends Connect 4 program
Industry, legislative and community leaders all met Monday at the Carroll County Career Center for the ribbon-cutting and grand opening of the Connect 4 program, which guest speaker Gov. Asa Hutchinson lauded as an “Arkansas success story.”
Rodney Ellis, president of the Connect 4 board of directors, welcomed everyone to the career center.
“We appreciate everyone being here this morning, and we appreciate the governor being here,” he said. “There are a lot of people behind the scenes in the community who made this happen. Connect 4 is a partnership of the three school districts, Berryville, Eureka Springs and Green Forest, and local industry.”
Hutchinson said he was grateful to be in Berryville to help celebrate another Arkansas success story.
“Getting the three schools working together on a project very important to young people,” he said, “is going to give them opportunities they never had. The other part of the equation is the industry partners that are a key part of this story here, especially in converting this armory into the Connect 4 industrial maintenance program.”
Hutchinson said he remembered when the Arkansas Army National Guard announced it was closing about 10 of its locations around Arkansas.
“That was really bad news in some cities, but Berryville stepped up and said ‘That’s something we can use,’ ” he said. “Mayor Tim McKinney, congratulations for your vision here, not just for Berryville but for the entire region.”
Hutchinson said Berryville, Eureka Springs and Green Forest schools are all represented among the 19 students enrolled in the Connect 4 program’s first year.
“These students are really what we’re here to celebrate,” he said. “When I became governor, there were 55 high schools in Arkansas that had no access to career education centers. Now, that number has been reduced to 17 because we’ve been going from Paris to Gentry to Helena-West Helena opening career centers that expand the opportunities for our young people.”
Hutchinson continued, “A decade ago, we basically said everyone needs to go to college and if you don’t go to college there’s something wrong with your vision for life. We recognize now that we’re not doing right by our young people to give them such limited options.”
Thanks to the Connect 4 program, he said, Carroll County students can study industrial maintenance and enter high-paying skilled labor positions right out of high school.
“What’s exciting about that option for young people is it does not lock you into a career path,” Hutchinson said.
He said students may decide to get additional classes and instruction and could even pursue a four-year degree while working in a high-paying skilled labor position.
“Congratulations to Green Forest, Berryville and Eureka Springs for the partnership and success here,” Hutchinson said. “I’m anxious to see what this partnership will bring in the future.”
McKinney said he appreciated everyone attending the grand opening and recognized the three superintendents for making the Connect 4 program happen.
“They work hard for their kids. They know what their kids need,” McKinney said, “and they’re the ones who made it happen.”
Superintendent Matt Summers welcomed the crowd on behalf of the Green Forest School District, its board of directors, faculty, staff and students.
“This school has been a long time coming,” he said. “Many obstacles and hurdles stood between our dreams and this reality. The partnership required to accomplish this goal was quite remarkable. Three schools, their boards of directors, city governments and numerous industry partners have all worked tirelessly for this creation and these students.”
Summers continued, “I hope and dream that our best skilled labor force stays right here in Carroll County to serve our community with the credentials they earn here to build, repair, maintain, improve and serve all of our cities and their people. Students, the only place that success is in front of work is in the dictionary. John Dewey said ‘Education is not preparation for life. Education is life itself.’ ”
Eureka Springs Superintendent Bryan Pruitt thanked everyone who has been an integral part of bringing the Connect 4 program together.
“We appreciate Mike Rogers, Mayor McKinney and everyone who has stepped up to help us,” Pruitt said. “We want to create a balanced curriculum and want to educate all of our kids, whether it’s coding, industrial maintenance, agriculture, home economics or the college path. Whatever they want to go on to be, we want to have our kids prepared, ready and confident.”
He continued, “When you go through a program like this, you come out confident and ready for the world of work. I’m excited for those opportunities for our students. It’s a great pleasure for us as superintendents to be part of that.”
Berryville Superintendent Owen Powell thanked everyone for attending and supporting Carroll County students, school districts and the Connect 4 program.
“About 40 percent of Berryville students go on to college. That means about 60 percent go into the workforce,” he said. “As a public school system, it is our job to prepare all students for higher education or the workforce. That’s what this program here is all about.”
Powell continued, “We’re excited about this program. It’s taken a lot of work and a lot of time by a lot of people. Rodney Ellis and [C4 director] James Knight are really the backbone of what made this facility what it is. Any time I come over here, they’re working their tails off. I really appreciate them.”
He said the idea for the program came about when the empty armory building was handed over to Berryville.
“There’s no doubt in my mind it’s going to grow and help make out students in Carroll County be successful,” Powell said.