State Board votes to transfer Arkansas Governor's School to Arkansas Tech | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, September 13, 2018

State Board votes to transfer Arkansas Governor's School to Arkansas Tech

Posted By on Thu, Sep 13, 2018 at 1:50 PM

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The state Board of Education today ratified a committee recommendation to move Arkansas Governor's School, the summer residential program for bright high school seniors, from Hendrix College to Arkansas Tech.


Melissa Sawyer, president of the Arkansas Governor's School Alumni Association, which opposed the move, tells me the vote was 5-2. I'm seeking a breakdown. The school has been at Hendrix for the 38 years of its existence. I'm seeking a specific vote breakdown and for more on the discussion that led to the vote.

UPDATE: Jay Barth, who works at Hendrix, recused. Charisse Dean took his place in the chair and didn't vote. Diane Zook and Brett Williamson voted against the move. Supporters were Fitz Hill, Susan Chambers, Ouida Newton, Kathy McFetridge and Sarah Moore.

A committee appointed by Education Commissioner Johnny Key voted initially, on total points from members' evaluations, to keep the school at Hendrix. But a subsequent revote of individual members gave the nod to Arkansas Tech. Unlike Hendrix, Tech has college students on campus in the summer, one argument against a move. Also, Tech has proposed a digitally-based change in the curriculum that many, including founders of the program, says is at odds with the program's past emphasis on broad intellectual inquiry, as opposed to school-type course training. The tech emphasis fits with Gov. Asa Hutchinson's emphasis on computer literacy, however.

The vote today sends the program to Tech for three years.

Bruce Haggard, one of the founders of the program, and a former director, wrote recently for us about his misgivings on the change in location and curriculum.

The alumni association presented the Board with a petition signed by hundreds of former AGS students and a statement raising questions about the selection process and the change in curriculum.

The school has attracted criticism over the years, particularly from conservatives angry about some of the topics discussed there.

In a news release, Tech President Robin Bowen noted the school's work in STEM education. But she also said:

“The Arkansas Governor’s School curriculum will maintain its traditional emphasis on arts and humanities,” said Bowen. “The effort to bring AGS to Arkansas Tech was led in part by Dr. Jeff Woods, dean of the ATU College of Arts and Humanities. However, ATU also has facilities that Arkansas Governor’s School participants can utilize to explore topics such as cybersecurity, alternative energy sources, biotechnology, genomics, computer science, mathematical fractals and game design.”
Haggard sent me a note after the vote.Ov

Actually there were 2,880 signers of the petition (in just five days) to keep the program at Hendrix and many of the signers added comments about how important it was to their own and/or their children's personal development.

Additionally, it is well established both with AGS at Hendrix, and with GT summer programs in other states, that GT programs of only 4 weeks in length do not work. It takes a minimum of six weeks to develop intellectual skills as opposed to just learning material. GT programs do not survive, as student satisfaction and thus the applications go way down because interest declines over a period of a couple of years when the progams are shortened. The
It is also important that GT programs do NOT overlap with HS atheletic programs as that eliminates some very qualified applicants.

I do wish Arkansas Tech good luck as I really hope that future generations of Arkansas secondary students will benefit as much as AGS alumni of the past 38 years.
Overnight, I received an account of the meeting from Kim Kwee, a former Governor's School student and long-time faculty member. It covers the ground pretty well.

I was there in support of AGS being left alone. I hesitate to say in support of Hendrix, because the group of faculty that I was part of were there to speak on behalf of the program's curriculum, structure, and general philosophy. We had hoped the Board would reject the recommendation from the site selection committee, not because we do not want ATU to have it, but because there is a reason it has not moved in 39 years. It was never designed to move.

Hendrix was selected as the host site to support every other aspect of the program. If ATU had proposed any plan for continuity or any inkling of the logistics required to run this kind of program, the Old Guard faculty and staff would have said a toast to the old days and embraced a new day. That's not their plans. That's not their proposal. They WANT the program's prestige to recruit into an Honors College and specific STEM majors.

I arrived and signed in by 9:05 this morning. Nine reps from ATU were already signed in. The President and the Dean of Arts and Humanities spoke first. They were not timed. They were asked questions about their planned curriculum. They did not mention that they plan to give a graduate assistant the job that has been a full-time, year-long position for the entire history of the program. Why does AGS need a full-time, year-round administrator? Because AGS is supposed to be autonomous from the admissions office of the host site. Because that person builds relationships with GT specialists and counselors across the state. Because the current administrator goes to the poorest parts of the state and tells kids there that they deserve this just as much as anyone else. Because that person works from 7 am to 10 pm some nights helping the Director dealing with all the things that happen when 17-year-olds are away from home. That person lays the groundwork for cultural events, internationally known speakers, trips to art museums and theatre productions. It's a lot more than sending out flyers. Unless, you intend to let your admissions office take up the task of on-boarding these bright young things. Hendrix offered this to the Director and administrative coordinator. They declined the offer. That would be the ethical thing to do.

One of the most puzzling and tone-deaf testimonies came from the mayor of Russellville who seemed to believe the 400 high school students would find plenty to do running around Pope County when experienced faculty pointed out the lack of sufficient social, cultural, and recreational activities in the ATU proposal.

Charisse Dean sure did a lot of persuasive talking as a non-voting chair of the meeting. After each Board members comments, Ms. Dean emphasized that the committee followed the rules and ATU won the majority vote. Even one member who did vote to accept the recommendation said the process needed to be fixed. Susan Chambers encouraged the thousands of people who voiced their concerns to get behind the decision no matter what. She said ATU should listen to us.

They could have voted to make ATU listen to the living institutional memory of a program that has been working when so much in public education is breaking down. They looked for an out: Ouida Newton asked, "What happens if there is a host site has a poor evaluation during the three-year cycle?" No one knew. Because it's never happened. The Hendrix Model, not Hendrix as an institution, has always worked. So why didn't the Board listen to the thousands of voices of dissent and decide to force ATU to submit a better proposal. Create an ad-hoc committee tasked with facilitating a smooth transition from one site to the next? So much more could have been done by this Board. They failed to look after the longevity of the program. They failed every Arkansas student who may have had a chance to attend.

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