Rural Arkansas schools outgrowing larger districts

Published: Dec. 9, 2022 at 12:30 PM CST
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HARRISON, Ark. (KY3) - Enrollment numbers from the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) show that many smaller schools in northwest Arkansas are growing faster than some larger schools.

The higher enrollment rates at smaller school districts raise concerns about having enough space for new kids and the staff to teach them.

Yellville-Summit Schools Superintendent Wes Henderson says they keep up with state requirements regarding teacher-student ratios. Maintaining support staff is a challenge. Henderson says many teachers and administrators in the district usually drive a bus route.

“You know our principals are willing to drive. Our AD is willing to drive. Our coaches drive,” he said. “It’s just. It takes a whole team in a small community for everybody to help out. But if anybody out there who’s listening lives around Yellville-Summit and wants to drive a bus, we’d love to have you as a part of our team also.”

According to the Statewide Information System, through the Arkansas Department of Education Data Center, Yellville-Summits enrollment has seen a 37% increase over the last six years, from 690 in 2016 to over 900. That compares to a larger district like Harrison Public Schools, which has seen a 5% increase in the same amount of time, from 2,637 students to 2,782.

Henderson says he is a big supporter of school choice, which is allowed in Arkansas, but it likely does play a factor in the trend being seen.

“It’s been some of our growth, no doubt about that, but we’ve had students leave our district to go to others,” said Henderson.”I would be proud to have my child be in any of the districts around Yellville Summit. They’re great people with great teachers and staff.”

School choice is a hot topic in Little Rock. Some legislators want to see it gone. Others want to make it more accessible.

“We want to be focused on the child and the money following that child, not just be focused on some institution,” Arkansas Sen. Bart Hester said in an interview with KARK-TV. “We’re going to work on educational freedom, and that’s for every kid in Arkansas. Our biggest priority in Arkansas is parental empowerment through choice.”

Either way, district leaders say they will have the same approach.

“We just want to serve, trying to teach those kids the strong work ethic and how to be a good human being,” said Henderson.

CLICK HERE to see more information on enrollment from ADE.

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