By Mary Jordan
Springdale Public Schools
Springdale Public Schools continues to create new development and learning opportunities for students who are moving on to college, as well as those who’ll be entering the workforce following graduation.
"Gone are the days when the thinking was you must go to college to be successful in life," said Randy Hutchinson, Springdale School Board president.
Several workforce development opportunities are made feasible through partnerships with Northwest Arkansas Community College and Northwest Technical Institute and can lead to professional degrees and certifications, said Rodney Ellis, Springdale Public Schools workforce training director. NWACC has campuses in Bentonville and Springdale, while NWTI is located in Springdale.
Introducing the trainers into district curriculum will allow the distrcit to move forward on growing a two-year program through which students could earn certifications that could lead them to a higher learning tracks in support of regional workforce needs.
“That will really start to move us in some areas that our business and industry partners are desperately in need for those skill sets,” Ellis said.
Meeting Regional Needs
According to the 2022-2023 Northwest Arkansas Annual Report by the Northwest Arkansas Council, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to recruit qualified employees as more companies invest and expand in Northwest Arkansas.
The NWA Council was established about 30 years ago by regional business leaders and is a working to advance job opportunities, talent recruitment, physical infrastructure, health care and the quality of life in Northwest Arkansas, according to the private nonprofit’s website. Most of the council’s more than 100 members are companies, such as Walmart, Tyson Foods, J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Simmons Foods and George’s.
Regional growth likewise fuels a need for qualified employees, according to the council’s 2022 State of the Northwest Arkansas Region report.
From 2016 to 2021, Northwest Arkansas’ employment grew at an average annual rate of 2.1%, a pace that exceeded that of Arkansas and the United States but was in the middle of the pack when compared to peer regions, according to the report. Employment in Northwest Arkansas increased 2.8% from 264,600 in 2019 to 272,100 in 2021.
The workforce development initiatives the district has in place give Springdale students a competitive advantage in their chosen career paths and create opportunities for them to “earn while they learn” through district and partner employment opportunities, Hutchinson said.
“Our kids are amazing,” Hutchinson said. “When given tools and opportunities like these, they can’t help but succeed.”
Don Tyson School of Innovation is also developing a HAAS Certification Center in partnership with the NWTI Industrial Maintenance program, which will allow for testing schools, programs, instructors and students throughout the region for HAAS CNC mill and lathe certification, Ellis sad.
To his knowledge, the only other certification location with the same capacity is located at North Arkansas College in Harrison, he said.
“With the certification center now housed in the district, DTSOI can create revenue opportunities by certifying other district instructors and students using HAAS CNC required parameters,” Ellis said, adding it will also save district students from traveling to Harrison to meet the same need.
Springdale Schools leads Arkansas in workforce initiatives, and districts throughout the state are reaching out to Ellis, Superintendent Dr. Jared Cleveland and other district subject matter experts to learn how to replicate what Springdale continues to build, Hutchinson said.
“Our students have taken these paths and have grown them into successful careers, which is very gratifying for me as a Board member,” he said. “One of my goals is to help make a positive impact in every student’s life, and our workforce initiatives do just that.”
The HAAS certifications will provide students with job opportunities within local business and industry CNC tracks, Ellis said.
A partnership with NWACC is also leading to an opportunity for a practical nursing degree pathway for Springdale students, he said.
“If they want to continue on into a nursing track, they can do their prerequisites, and then they can stack that toward that practical nursing licensure,” Ellis said. “If they continue to pursue that, they can eventually move into an RN track.”
Archer Learning Center will likewise introduce a construction fundamentals course, he said.
“It's a prerequisite to a pre-apprenticeship a program that we use,” Ellis said. “That goes across all of our district.”
Springdale Schools is aligning with subject matter experts as well, who’ll help propel the district toward expanding and further connecting automation, robotics, information technology and cybersecurity curriculum and education to viable NWA employment opportunities.
Ellis said the district will also begin to use the YouScience testing platform to help families better select education pathways based on student aptitudes and interests.
“Whether they go into a post-secondary track or they choose to go into a workforce setting, that will give them a lot of opportunities to kind of hone in on certain tracks that will get them there through the quickest route,” he said.
The district has likewise strengthened existing workforce development curriculum by purchasing 143 sewing machines, a manual mill and lathe, a desktop mill, construction fundamentals equipment, greenhouse landscaping equipment and a robotic trainer, Ellis said.
Springdale Schools intends to introduce robotic trainers throughout the district, he said.
“We can tie that into our computer science and also into our IT sector so that our students start to understand how those are evolving into a process-oriented individual who is very valuable in the marketplace today,” Ellis said.
The district isn’t limiting opportunities to considering learning pathways to junior, middle and high school students, he said, and is introducing fourth- and fifth-grade students and their families to career fundamentals through Parent University.
Parent University is free and is offered one night a week for three weeks at district elementary schools, Ellis said. Featured topics include hands-on learning in the business, medical and technical education fields.
The classes not only offer learning opportunities for the entire family, but also provide a window into some of the many career tracks available through Springdale Schools, he said.
Families may contact their child’s elementary school to learn about upcoming Parent University opportunities.