South Pike County School District not to pursue New Tech, charter status
By John Balch
After learning grant funds will be considerably less than expected, the South Pike County School Board has voted not to pursue conversion charter status and the implementation of New Tech Networks for Murfreesboro High School.
In January, the Arkansas Board of Education approved the district’s proposal for MHS to become a conversion charter school, and the high school was also approved to become a New Tech Networks school. Along with the approval of the conversion charter and the New Tech status came approval of various grants to fund the associated technology, fees and training and facility additions and updates.
Initially, the grants were to total in the $600,000 to $800,000 range. But, Superintendent Roger Featherston informed the board last week the grant funds had been reduced by approximately $190,000 due to the large number of schools that had also been approved for charter status this year.
“For that reason, I’m uncomfortable with going in to it, financially,” said Featherston, who added he was “still convinced that New Tech is a great method of delivering education to kids.”
There was no discussion among board members before the vote on the motion to not pursue New Tech status and forego the associated grants. The motion passed by a vote of 6-1. Voting for the measure were Alan Walls, Trent Cox, Chris Sharp, Angie Price Fabian, Jeramy Humphry and Ricky Buck. The lone “no” vote was cast by Steve Conly, who had spearheaded the district’s pursuit of the New Tech status.
“I think this is a great injustice to the students and our school, and I just want everyone to know that the school board was not doing this…we didn’t have an agenda with it…we were trying to do this to help kids,” Conly said after the vote.
New Tech uses a “project-based teaching” system and Conly said from what he witnessed during visits to other New Tech schools the system had potential to make a difference in local education. “The good kids are always going to do good,” he said. “It’s the kids that aren’t going to be your ‘A’ students that this program was about.”
Conly acknowledged that “money’s tight” for the district, but questioned what the plans were for the $2.2 million of incentive money the district received and banked for annexing the Delight School District in 2010. The money has to be used only for facilities associated with the annexation, he said.
“I guarantee when it comes up in the community to build a new gym or add on to the other one, we’ll all be for that,” Conly said. “But we may be just a little bit lacking on wanting a good education for the kids.”
Conly encouraged board members and the community to continue looking for a program that will benefit local education.
“If (New Tech) isn’t the program for us, let’s turn it around and do something that is, and let’s all pull together and do it,” he said.