Sun. Dec 10th, 2023

Tammy Curtis, Publisher

Three Highland School Board of Directors are facing contested races in the Nov. 14 Election. The Spring River Chronicle has had numerous calls, messages and emails regarding candidates and questions about where each falls on several topics. We feel it is vital that as a news agency, we provide the information to our readers to make the best selections. 

The Spring River Chronicle submitted a questionnaire for each to answer without the interruptions that often occur in an open forum. We asked both incumbent and contenders to answer the same questions. They were given a 200 word maximum per question and their answers are published in their entirety with only corrections being typographical errors. They are grouped by the person who they are facing in the election.

All seats are at large and not by region of residence in the district. 

POSITION 1

Sandy Murphy (appointed incumbent) faces Michelle Peterson for Position 1)

Sandy Murphy’s Response 

Sandy replied to the questionnaire in a timely manner,  but stated she had family in town for a family friend’s funeral. She said she didn’t feel she could meet the deadline for submission, but provided the following statement.

“In response to the issued questions and due to time constraints, I issue the following statement: 

I believe school board members should approach all opportunities and issues with an open mind and a positive attitude. Board members should come to the table with no preconceived notions and no agendas. The top priority of any school board member should be the safety and well-being of our students. I believe before any child can learn they have to be fed and healthy. I know that our staff and administrators are working diligently to make improvements and help our students in every way possible. I bring to the board many years of good old fashion common sense and a genuine love for Highland Rebels.”

Michelle Peterson’s Response

Q: What is the single most important thing that you, as a member of the Highland School Board or potential member,  feel is absolutely necessary to ensure the successful education and subsequent future of students in your district?

A: The most important priority to guarantee the successful education and future of Highland School District students is ensuring students have the educational opportunity to become leaders in our community through an excellent education. Keeping the focus on student achievement is paramount. It’s important to get direct feedback from the experts in the classroom, our highly-qualified teachers, because their expertise is the foundation for effective instruction to instill educational success for all students during students’ school years and beyond graduation.                

Q: Please give a brief history of why you opted to serve or wish to serve on the Highland School Board and what you feel your role is or will be. 

A: I chose to run for a position on the school board because I believe students achieve their true potential as productive citizens through an excellent education. Additionally, there is a need for new voices on the school board to provide an avenue for fresh ideas, so we don’t allow “groupthink” to creep into our school board’s actions and policies. We must not settle for the status quo but strive for continuous improvement to be the model school district others want to emulate. According to the Handbook for Arkansas School Board Members, “No individual board member has any power or authority, but collectively the board is responsible for setting the direction of the district, ensuring it is properly administered, establishing policy, and representing the education interests of the community.” Therefore, each member’s independent knowledge, skills, and ideas serving to improve Highland School District creates a well-informed solution through the synergy gained by various ideas from the board members.

Q: What are some things you think that could be done differently, if anything, to provide a greater learning environment and overall experience for students at Highland?

A: There needs to be an ongoing, periodically-scheduled, quality upgrade of classroom furnishings and equipment, so our teachers work in an environment that respects their profession. The physical environment adds to effective instruction. It’s important to recruit, retain, and empower excellent teachers who are adept at personalizing learning experiences for students. We need to provide teachers with the autonomy to innovate and demand excellence from their students. We must responsibly use community assets and resources to improve students’ learning experience.

Q: With the failing of the millage last fall, what, if any, lessons have been learned and or realizations made that you have learned from and can positively build upon for future growth of the district if you remain or are elected to the board?

A: A lack of sufficient communication and transparency were two crucial lessons learned from the millage election last fall and the subsequent special election in February. The timing of asking for this millage request during a time of tremendous increase in inflation, which affected families directly in their pocketbooks with everyday costs at the grocery store, gas pump, etc., was inappropriate. To positively build on these lessons, it’s important to have community input on policies, programs, or proposals affecting the education of students. One idea may be to have quarterly town hall meetings to hear directly from the community to express their ideas and proposals to improve education for students in the community.

Q: What is the most impactful non-education issue you feel faces the students at Highland that you feel as a board member you could impact in some positive way by the implementation of new policies or rules that could also impact their education process positively?

A: Safety and security is the most important non-education issue students at Highland School District face today. It’s important to have a qualified, independent safety and security expert complete a full report on all potential threats and shortcomings on all facilities in Highland School District. Although the new fencing around the school buildings is a step forward to provide security, there is still a need for impenetrable walls with panic doors around the student walkways between buildings.

Q: If you were able to change one thing within the district for the better, what would it be, how would you champion for it and why do you feel it is important for students futures?

A: For students who achieve academic excellence, the creation of an endowment fund from community members, businesses, and corporations could be implemented for academic scholarships to help defray students’ college tuition cost. One way to encourage participation in an academic scholarship endowment is to solicit tax-deductible contributions to the fund. Another idea to prepare students for a bright future is to start a volunteer-mentorship program to supplement classroom instruction providing the mentors’ hands-on life experience from various career fields directly to students. We should canvas or survey the community to ask for people who are willing to be mentors for students to share their professional knowledge with students and take advantage of the tremendous talent and knowledge of the adult residents in this community, such as retired or semi-retired engineers, machinists, welders, ranchers, veterans, chemists, doctors, accountants, lawyers, business owners etc.

Q: Describe the positive changes you have witnessed within the district within the last few years that have proven successful in some sort of way that benefits the students more than  anything in the past. 

A: The recent renovation of the Cherokee Elementary School is the most positive step to providing an attractive, safe, functional, and effective educational environment for students and teachers alike. Additionally, there’s been some improvement toward transparency on the Highland School District’s website under the Required Information tab. For example, school board agendas are now available to the public in a timely manner, approximately 2-3 weeks prior to each board meeting. Documents presented at each public board meeting are now linked to each agenda for the public to access within a few days after each board meeting. Audio recordings of each board meeting are now linked on the website for the public. These actions helped provide transparency to the community on school board actions. However, video or live-streaming would be easier for the community to understand the board’s actions. 

Q: Describe how you feel about yourself, as a board member, ensuring that not only yourselves but, the district staff and administrators are held accountable and ensure they are being transparent to the public? 

A: I take pride in my personal integrity to ensure I’m accountable to people I give my word to and I’m transparent in all information I provide to them. My unwavering principle in respecting the public’s right to question my actions and policies taken if I serve on the school board shows the importance I place on my personal integrity.

Q: What are your feelings as a board member about the requirement set last year for parents, caregivers or anyone coming on campuses to first undergo a background check? Please elaborate on your awareness of the criteria of the check, purposes, costs and entity who runs the checks.

A: I understand the need for background checks for safety and security at public schools. I believe the one-time cost for the background checks should have been fully or partially covered by the school district, especially in this poverty-stricken area. To not do so, dissuades family members from attending public school events and thus makes them feel not connected to the school community. My understanding from some parents I spoke to is there needed to be more communication regarding the purpose, procedure, costs, and discussion on questions or concerns for families and the community. 

Q: Have you attended training, studied or made yourself familiar with the model polices of the Arkansas School Boards Association and do you understand the differences between policies and laws that may be set by the state?

A: Yes, I’ve made myself familiar with the Arkansas School Boards Association’s model policies and if elected, I will continue to study and research them in-depth. Yes, a state law is enacted through legislative action in state or federal statutes whereas a policy can provide the procedure to implement the law. Policies are easier to change whereas a law requires legislative action.


POSITION 4

Johnny Carter’s Incumbenent against Conway Spurlock

Johnny Carter’s Response

Q: What is the single most important thing that you, as a member of the Highland School Board or potential member,  feel is absolutely necessary to ensure the successful education and subsequent future of students in your district?

A: Stability is necessary. Elect those of us with experience and sincere interests in the success of students and staff built on the traditions of excellence established in sixty years of true Rebel Pride.

Q: Please give a brief history of why you opted to serve or wish to serve on the Highland School Board and what you feel your role is or will be. 

A: As one of seven HSD school board members, I will continue to share knowledge learned from experience and move forward with positive progress for all.

Q: What are some things you think that could be done differently, if anything, to provide a greater learning environment and overall experience for students at Highland?

A: We are always open to new and effective techniques of reaching all students to be successful beyond the high school experience. Career and college readiness are ultimate goals.

Q: With the failing of the millage last fall, what, if any, lessons have been learned and or realizations made that you have learned from and can positively build upon for future growth of the district if you remain or are elected to the board?

A:  Communication with district patrons is key to understanding. Our board meetings are open to the public; our records are readily available through laws of FOIA. 

Q: What is the most impactful non-education issue you feel faces the students at Highland that you feel as a board member you could impact in some positive way by the implementation of new policies or rules that could also impact their education process positively?

A: Peer pressure has always been an obstacle. Positive encouragement from sincerely interested adults can be helpful for the growth of pre-K children through high school seniors. 

Q: If you were able to change one thing within the district for the better, what would it be, how would you champion for it and why do you feel it is important for students futures?

A: Unity should overcome division.  All sensible adults are entitled to differing opinions; however, all should be striving for positive education of students and their success.

Q: Describe the positive changes you have witnessed within the district within the last few years that have proven successful in some sort of way that benefits the students more than  anything in the past. 

A: Highland has always had a good school system. Our staff and students want to be #1 and work daily to achieve. We have built character through successes and failures. Our graduates move forward and contribute with their time, knowledge, and talents to the communities in which they choose to live. 

Q: Describe how you feel about yourself, as a board member, ensuring that not only yourselves but, the district staff and administrators are held accountable and ensure they are being transparent to the public? 

A:  I am easily reachable for direction through conversation and continued volunteerism.

Q: What are your feelings as a board member about the requirement set last year for parents, caregivers or anyone coming on campuses to first undergo a background check? Please elaborate on your awareness of the criteria of the check, purposes, costs and entity who runs the checks.

A: Safety of all school personnel (students and staff) is ranked right beside education. We must be vigilant in our efforts to protect.

Q: Have you attended training, studied or made yourself familiar with the model polices of the Arkansas School Boards Association and do you understand the differences between policies and laws that may be set by the state?

A: Yes; school board members are required to have a minimum of six hours of continuing education annually. I have exceeded that requirement and been recognized by ASBA with the Certificate of Boardsmanship. 


Conway Spurlock’s  Responses

Q: What is the single most important thing that you, as a member of the Highland School Board or potential member,  feel is absolutely necessary to ensure the successful education and subsequent future of students in your district?

A: Keeping quality educators in the classrooms and broadening our Vo-Tech curriculum to better prepare our children for the future. We need to partner with local businesses to see how we can better prepare our children so they will qualify for good local jobs, as well as being prepared to go off to work at a high paying job elsewhere. 

Q: Please give a brief history of why you opted to serve or wish to serve on the Highland School Board and what you feel your role is or will be. 

A: I was approached by several people who asked me to serve on the school board to be a voice of reason. We felt the 70 percent of voters who opposed the property tax increase last February needed a voice on the school board, since the 30 percent already had seven members representing their interests. 

Q: What are some things you think that could be done differently, if anything, to provide a greater learning environment and overall experience for students at Highland?

A: We feel that Highland has too many high paid administrative positions. By eliminating just two of these positions, we could put six more educators in the classroom. 

Q: With the failing of the millage last fall, what, if any, lessons have been learned and or realizations made that you have learned from and can positively build upon for future growth of the district if you remain or are elected to the board?

A:  The Citizens of the Highland School District spoke in a clear voice stating you are getting enough of our tax dollars … spend wisely. We think the off campus buildings should be sold  and the money used to repair and add on to the existing Vo-tech wing, attaching it to the main building and include a small office for the superintendent.  

Q: What is the most impactful non-education issue you feel faces the students at Highland that you feel as a board member you could impact in some positive way by the implementation of new policies or rules that could also impact their education process positively?

A: I think a stricter drug policy is needed. The numerous drug overdoses on campus are not only dangerous for the children who overdose, but it’s traumatic to the student’s who observe these events. 

Q: If you were able to change one thing within the district for the better, what would it be, how would you champion for it and why do you feel it is important for students futures?

A: I would like to have a guidance counselor who exclusively works to obtain financial aid for students who chose to earn Bachelor’s degrees or certifications beyond their high school diplomas. 

Q: Describe the positive changes you have witnessed within the district within the last few years that have proven successful in some sort of way that benefits the students more than  anything in the past. 

A: I am not aware of no such policy or changes. 

Q: Describe how you feel about yourself, as a board member, ensuring that not only yourselves but, the district staff and administrators are held accountable and ensure they are being transparent to the public? 

A:  I will advocate for openness and accountability in spending school funds. I intend to review all new laws passed concerning public education after each legislative session.

Q: What are your feelings as a board member about the requirement set last year for parents, caregivers or anyone coming on campuses to first undergo a background check? Please elaborate on your awareness of the criteria of the check, purposes, costs and entity who runs the checks.

A: I feel the system for approving who could pick up a child at Highland served its purpose in keeping our students safe. This new law is just more government overreach. If we were located in Little Rock, I might see the need, but we are not in Little Rock. We need to speak to our State Representatives.  

Q: Have you attended training, studied or made yourself familiar with the model polices of the Arkansas School Boards Association and do you understand the differences between policies and laws that may be set by the state?

A: I have been reading the policies and laws established by the Arkansas School Board Association. I haven’t ascertained which are set in stone, and which are just guidelines. I will have a better understanding of these things before taking office. I will point out that I don’t agree with some of the guidelines, but I may be obliged to follow them anyway. 


POSITION 5

Renee Clay-Circle, Incumbent faces Bobby Woods

Renee-Clay Circle’s responses:

Q: What is the single most important thing that you, as a member of the Highland School Board or potential member,  feel is absolutely necessary to ensure the successful education and subsequent future of students in your district?

A: The single most important factor for ensuring the successful education and future of students in the Highland School District is a commitment to providing a fair and equal opportunity education. In our community with increasing diversity, it’s vital that every student, regardless of their background, has access to the same resources, quality teaching, and opportunities to excel. This commitment extends to addressing disparities in educational outcomes and fostering strong connections between schools, families, and the community.  Regardless of race, gender, socio-economic status, or abilities; by striving to cultivate an atmosphere of safety and inclusivity, where every student is  valued and respected, we can ensure every child has an equal opportunity to thrive. Ensuring this fairness in education is the cornerstone of my vision for the district.   Creating a level playing field for every student, will enable them to reach their full potential.This commitment to fairness encompasses several key components. Above all, it is imperative that we address every student’s foundational hierarchy of needs to foster their holistic growth, encompassing academic excellence, socio-emotional development, and overall well-being.  

 We must strive for excellence in teaching and curriculum development, ensuring that our educators are well-supported, motivated, and have access to the latest educational tools and methods. Additionally, fostering strong connections between schools, families, and the community is essential. We need to engage parents, caregivers, and community members in the educational process and decision-making to create a shared responsibility for our current students’ success.

 In short, the single most important thing for the successful education and future of our students is a commitment to equal opportunity and fairness in all aspects of our educational system. By prioritizing fairness, we can ensure that every child in the Highland School District has an equal opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential,  ultimately leading to a brighter future for each student and our entire community.

Q: Please give a brief history of why you opted to serve or wish to serve on the Highland School Board and what you feel your role is or will be. 

A: I chose to serve on the Highland School Board because of my passion for education and commitment to our community’s future. My role is to advocate for fair and equal opportunities for all students, support our educators, and engage with the community to ensure our district’s success. I’ve been an active member of this community for many years and believe that education is the key to our future. I wish to continue my service because I believe in the current vision and mission of Highland School District as the foundation for individual student success and vital to the development and future of our community.   

Q: What are some things you think that could be done differently, if anything, to provide a greater learning environment and overall experience for students at Highland?

A: To create a more enriching learning environment and enhance the overall student experience at Highland, we would like to explore the following:

Community Engagement:  By increasing community engagement, we can create an environment where not only the school but also the wider community takes an active interest in the success and well-being of our students. This can involve inviting community members to school events, fostering partnerships with local businesses, and encouraging mentorship programs that connect students with experienced individuals from the community. When everyone in the community feels invested in our students’ future, it not only enhances the educational experience but also strengthens the support network that our students need to thrive. This sense of interconnectedness is a powerful catalyst for creating a positive and nurturing learning environment that benefits everyone involved.

Evaluating Student Feedback: Considering a more effective feedback mechanism to ensure our students’ voices are heard in our decision-making processes is paramount. This can involve implementing regular surveys and open forums that encourage students to share their thoughts, concerns, and innovative ideas. By actively involving students in shaping their educational experience, we gain valuable insights into their needs and preferences. Ultimately, this results in a student-centered environment that also prepares them for dynamic challenges they’ll encounter in the future.

Q: With the failing of the millage last fall, what, if any, lessons have been learned and or realizations made that you have learned from and can positively build upon for future growth of the district if you remain or are elected to the board?

A:  When reflecting on the failed millage last fall, it became evident that our community had concerns and reservations that needed to be addressed. Property values were rising, and the economic landscape was shifting, making it clear that timing and affordability were significant factors. This experience reinforced the importance of being attuned to the economic realities of our community when proposing any changes or requests for funding.

As a board member, we had the responsibility of communicating the rules and regulations of the $6.3 million dollar grant from the State of Arkansas.  We tried to pass the millage twice and it failed both times.  We were asked to try for a third time, but we opted not to do that and returned the grant money.  We have to move forward and work diligently to ensure that any future proposals within our budget are not only well-timed for our constituents. We can take this experience as an opportunity to forge stronger connections with our residents and engage in productive dialogues to find solutions and build future plans that align with the best interests of our district and the economic realities of our community. It’s essential that we learn from the past and collaboratively shape a positive future for the growth and prosperity of our district.

Another significant lesson learned was the necessity of cohesive collaboration and increased communication within the community. It became evident that many residents had questions and concerns about school policies and finances. We appreciate those who were willing to engage in these discussions, as their input is invaluable. Moving forward, we need to maintain these open lines of communication, making sure that community members feel heard and informed.  I look forward to aligning goals and planning for the future. 

Q: What is the most impactful non-education issue you feel faces the students at Highland that you feel as a board member you could impact in some positive way by the implementation of new policies or rules that could also impact their education process positively?

A: One of the most impactful non-education issues facing students at Highland is the ever changing state of mental health with youth today. As a board member, I believe we can make an increased positive impact by implementing new policies and rules that prioritize the well-being of our students.  I am proud of our school based mental health programs that include on site counseling, equine therapy, and training of each faculty member that focuses on establishing an environment that promotes healthy mental health practices.  

By continuing to develop and practice comprehensive mental health and well-being programs, students have access to the necessary tools and resources to cope with stress, anxiety, and emotional challenges. These programs can include counseling services, mindfulness practices, and emotional intelligence curricula, aiming to build resilience and emotional intelligence among our students.

Moreover, ongoing measures that destigmatizes mental health issues are essential in making it easier for students to seek help when needed. Encouraging open dialogues, supporting peer mentorship programs, and training staff to recognize signs of distress are all part of creating a compassionate and supportive environment.

By addressing mental health concerns, we not only promote the overall well-being of our students but also set the stage for a positive educational experience. A mentally healthy student is better equipped to engage in learning, build meaningful relationships, and navigate the challenges they’ll encounter during their academic journey, ultimately benefiting their academic success and personal growth.

Q: If you were able to change one thing within the district for the better, what would it be, how would you champion for it and why do you feel it is important for students futures?

A: If I had the opportunity to drive a significant change within our district, my focus would be on implementing a more robust and diverse extracurricular program. Extracurricular activities play a vital role in a student’s overall development. They offer a platform for students to explore their interests, passions, and talents beyond the traditional classroom setting. 

I would champion this initiative by collaborating with the local community, parents, and relevant organizations to expand our current extracurricular offerings. This could include a wide array of options such as sports, arts, music, debate, coding, robotics, and community service activities. The key is to provide a diverse range of extracurricular opportunities to cater to the unique interests and abilities of all our students.

By empowering students to discover their strengths and passions, this opportunity can influence their career choices and life trajectories. By participating in a variety of activities, students can develop a broader skill set, including leadership, teamwork, time management, and problem-solving skills. This not only makes them more well-rounded individuals but also better prepares them for the demands of the modern job market and a dynamic, ever-changing world.

Notwithstanding, a diverse extracurricular program fosters a sense of belonging and connection to the school. Students who are actively engaged in extracurricular activities often have higher levels of school satisfaction, attendance, and a stronger sense of community. This sense of belonging positively impacts their overall educational experience and can lead to improved academic performance.

In summary, a comprehensive and diverse extracurricular program isn’t just about the immediate benefits; it’s an investment in our students’ futures, enabling them to grow, learn, and thrive in a multifaceted way, while also preparing them for the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.

Q: Describe the positive changes you have witnessed within the district within the last few years that have proven successful in some sort of way that benefits the students more than  anything in the past. 

A: In recent years, we’ve seen success in our increased focus on the following: 

1.  Technology integration and personalized learning:  To better meet students’ diverse needs and enhance their educational experience. Technology has allowed us to tailor education to individual students and offer a more personalized approach. This success demonstrates the potential for innovation and adaptability in our district.

2. Community Outreach Programs: Our district has launched community outreach programs that bridge the gap between the school and local residents. By fostering stronger ties with community organizations and parents, we’ve created a more collaborative environment that directly benefits our students, who now have access to a wider range of resources and support that includes but is not limited to mental, physical, and dental health services, access to nutritional foods, clothing, wifi utility, general supplies, etc. 

3. Enhanced Special Education Services: Over the last few years, we’ve made significant strides in improving our special education services. We’ve created more inclusive classroom environments, increased access to individualized support, and established stronger partnerships with parents and caregivers. These changes have positively impacted the learning experience of our students with special needs.

4. Academic Proficiency: 

a. Achieving academic success that is significantly above state averages. 

b. Increased Advanced Placement (AP) Courses: We’ve expanded our offering of AP courses, giving students the opportunity to challenge themselves with college-level coursework. 

c. Career pathways: Preparing students for certifications and licenses from Ozarka.  Such programs like welding, CNA/nursing, etc. have been highly successful in helping diverge paths that might not be to a 4-year institution. Also, exposure to military or law-enforcement training programs has helped in students exploring alternative pathways.

5. Enhanced Teacher Professional Development: We’ve invested in comprehensive professional development for our educators, allowing them to stay up-to-date with the latest teaching techniques, technology, and educational research. As a result, our teachers are better equipped to meet the evolving needs of our students, delivering high-quality education.

6. Improved Facilities and Safety Measures: Our district has made significant improvements to school facilities and implemented enhanced safety measures. Students now learn in more modern, safer environments, which positively impact their educational experience.

7. Mental Health Support Services: Recognizing the importance of student well-being, our district has increased mental health support services. We now have trained counselors available to address the emotional and psychological needs of our students, fostering a healthier, more supportive learning environment.

These positive changes have collectively contributed to a better educational experience for our students, equipping them with the skills, support, and resources needed for success.

Q: Describe how you feel about yourself, as a board member, ensuring that not only yourselves but, the district staff and administrators are held accountable and ensure they are being transparent to the public ? 

A:  As a board member, I strongly believe in the importance of maintaining an open and responsible approach to governance. This means being accountable not only to ourselves but also to our dedicated district staff and administrators. Holding ourselves accountable means setting high standards, evaluating our progress, and making sure our actions align with the best interests of our students and the community we serve.

Accountability starts with clear communication and well-defined objectives. We must ensure that our staff and administrators are aware of their roles and responsibilities and have the resources necessary to excel in their positions. It also involves regularly assessing their performance and making any necessary adjustments to ensure our goals are met.

Ultimately, accountability is a means to foster trust within our district. When we set and meet high standards, we earn the trust of our community, demonstrating our commitment to providing the best possible education for our students. This approach not only ensures we remain effective as a board but also paves the way for the success of our district and the bright future of our students.

Q: What are your feelings as a board member about the requirement set last year for parents, caregivers or anyone coming on campuses to first undergo a background check? Please elaborate on your awareness of the criteria of the check, purposes, costs and entity who runs the checks.

A: As a board member, I wholeheartedly support the requirement implemented last year, which mandates background checks for parents, caregivers, or any individuals visiting our school campuses. This measure is a fundamental component of our commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of our students.

a. Awareness of Criteria: I am well aware that the criteria used in these background checks are comprehensive and rigorous. They typically include checks for criminal records, particularly offenses involving violence, drugs, or any crimes that may pose a risk to the safety of our students.

b. Purposes: The primary purpose of these background checks is to safeguard our learning environment. By conducting these checks, we can be more confident that those who have access to our campuses, interact with our students, or participate in school activities do not present a risk to their safety. 

c. Costs: I understand that these background checks do incur expenses. However, these costs are justified when considering the priceless value of our students’ safety. We must ensure that we allocate the necessary resources to maintain a secure learning environment.

d. Entity Responsible: The responsibility for conducting these background checks is typically assigned to a specialized agency or a trusted third-party service provider. These entities have the expertise and resources to conduct thorough background checks efficiently and with the necessary confidentiality.

In conclusion, as a board member, I firmly support the requirement for background checks on campus visitors to guarantee the safety of our students. The stringent criteria, associated costs, and responsible entities are all important aspects of this essential security measure, and I am committed to ensuring that these checks remain a vital part of our school’s safety protocols.

Q: Have you attended training, studied or made yourself familiar with the model polices of the Arkansas School Boards Association and do you understand the differences between policies and laws that may be set by the state?

A: I am dedicated to continuous professional growth, which includes actively participating in training sessions to remain informed about the latest policies and best practices outlined by the Arkansas School Boards Association. I have invested time and effort into becoming well-acquainted with their model policies.

Additionally, I am pleased to share that I have been recognized with the 2023 Pinnacle Award by the Arkansas School Boards Association for accumulating over two hundred professional development hours. This recognition reflects my commitment to staying current and continuously improving as a board member.

Understanding the distinctions between policies and state laws is indeed vital in my role as a board member. Policies, while guided by state laws, provide the framework for how we operate within the district. They allow us to adapt our educational approach to the unique needs and circumstances of our community while adhering to the overarching state laws. This understanding is crucial in making informed decisions, as it ensures that our policies not only comply with legal requirements but also address the specific needs of our students and community. It’s about striking a balance between state-mandated regulations and locally tailored solutions to provide the best possible education for our students.


Bobby Woods Responses

Q: What is the single most important thing that you, as a member of the Highland School Board or potential member,  feel is absolutely necessary to ensure the successful education and subsequent future of students in your district?

A: Providing a stable and nontoxic working environment for teachers. Highland has some of the best teachers in the state; It is incumbent that we listen to them and hear their concerns without them fearing retaliation for speaking their concerns or issues. Our teachers have devoted their lives to the education of our children, and they should be treated with respect, dignity and grace no matter the title they hold. I am not an educator and I respect and admire all teachers and providing them with the work environment and materials they need to do their job is essential to their success. Happy teachers equate to happy and educated students.

Q: Please give a brief history of why you opted to serve or wish to serve on the Highland School Board and what you feel your role is or will be. 

A:  After the failed millage, I started paying attention to the publics concerns and questions about our school. I could not understand how a millage was defeated by the volume it was. I reached out to the group that campaigned against it to see why they felt the way they did. I discovered this group to consist of retired teachers, hospital administrators, retired military members and just members of the community. They were not radical people with bad intentions as I assumed. They held genuine questions and concerns about our school system. I watched the current boards response to them and could see clearly, they had no intention of listening to them. We are a community and if our elected officials will not listen to the people, they plan to impose a tax on they don’t need to hold the office. That is a move our federal government uses, and I want to stop it in its tracks on a local level.

Q: What are some things you think that could be done differently, if anything, to provide a greater learning environment and overall experience for students at Highland?

A:  I have heard no major concerns from the public about the environment for our children being a bad one. If elected, I would speak to the current teachers and ask them what it would take to make things better for them and the students. I am not an educator, and I am not in classrooms daily like our teachers. I would take the advice from the teachers on this issue and am not qualified enough to answer this question without speaking to the current teachers and even retired teachers that make up this community. My job as a board member would be to ensure the teachers have what they need to make sure our children have a great learning experience and overall experience at our school. I trust our teachers with this task.

Q: With the failing of the millage last fall, what, if any, lessons have been learned and or realizations made that you have learned from and can positively build upon for future growth of the district if you remain or are elected to the board?

A:  The public demands transparency, communication and respect from its school system. The public funds our schools and our school system should treat the public like a customer. Customer service is essential in any business. If your customers are not happy, you will not have a successful business. I will encourage the board to change its policy on public speaking. If the public can’t speak to the board of directors it elected without writing a letter to the superintendent explaining why they want to talk, it creates an unneeded divide. For our school to grow we must cooperate as a community even if we disagree on policies. If two sides cannot agree to listen to each other, we remain stuck where we are with no room for growth.

Q: What is the most impactful non-education issue you feel faces the students at Highland that you feel as a board member you could impact in some positive way by the implementation of new policies or rules that could also impact their education process positively?

A: Taking care of our children that play sports, band, cheerleading, track etc. Or they are involved in any club associated with the school. Our football field is in dire shape. It needs resurfacing and does not drain properly. There are holes on it that are filled with sand. I do not know who this task falls on or if this is a money issue, but yearly maintenance is required. If this is a funding issue, why hasn’t the public been informed so we can help? I would like to see our school more involved in summer baseball leagues. The city of Ash Flat has been over generous with the use of their fields and upkeep. Parents need bleachers and shaded areas to watch their children. I would be a vocal advocate in either raising funds for this or supplying them with their needs. This falls under the customer service aspect I spoke of earlier. It lets the parents know the school knows they exist and wants to help in any way even if it is not educational related. We are all Highland Rebels.

Q: If you were able to change one thing within the district for the better, what would it be, how would you champion for it and why do you feel it is important for students futures?

A: I am not within our school district right now so I can only speak to what I would change as a parent/taxpayer looking in. I would end the Covid lockdowns at our school. Yes, security is essential but when parents start feeling shut out to the point that they can’t eat lunch with their children or walk them to their classrooms in the morning, questions and mistrust brew. Walking your child to class on the first day is a right of passage as a parent and the current lockdown system of not entering our schools is outdated. Covid is over! Along with the ridiculous restrictions that we all suffered under. This issue also falls under the customer service aspect of our school, and I would be vocal in ending this practice.

Q: Describe the positive changes you have witnessed within the district within the last few years that have proven successful in some sort of way that benefits the students more than  anything in the past. 

A: From the outside looking in, I have seen the school encourage and teach more technical skills for students. I fully support this and will encourage its growth in any way possible. College is not for all people, and it is our job as a school system to ensure that every child has the best start possible in whichever route they choose. Teaching children technical skills and how to run and manage a business is vital to their growth as a person. The number one job of our school is to educate our kids to prepare them to enter careers and become productive members of society.

Q: Describe how you feel about yourself, as a board member, ensuring that not only yourselves but, the district staff and administrators are held accountable and ensure they are being transparent to the public? 

A:  I would encourage the board to drop its public speaking policy. Members of the public should have a time limit sufficient to voice their concerns to any elected official no matter the office. The constitution affords us this right. Any restriction on this can be argued unconstitutional. I would also advocate for all financial documents that are provided online to be better organized and explained to the public on the school website. There is lots of stuff there that makes sense to no one. Being proactive and transparent can only bring good. When questions arise, people can refer to the website and have explanations to their questions. There is no reason Highland can’t be the future model for all school systems with transparency. Just because other schools do the same with their website doesn’t mean we have to. Let’s lead by example.

Q: What are your feelings as a board member about the requirement set last year for parents, caregivers or anyone coming on campuses to first undergo a background check? Please elaborate on your awareness of the criteria of the check, purposes, costs and entity who runs the checks.

A:  I have no issues with a background check for anyone entering our schools. It should NOT cost a dime once they pass it. I do not know the cost aspects of any of this because I am not on the board currently. As a parent/taxpayer I will absorb any reasonable cost to ensure that sexual offenders do not enter our campus. This process also must have common sense implied, when necessary. Charging a law-abiding parent to enter their child’s school must be done away with.

Q: Have you attended training, studied or made yourself familiar with the model polices of the Arkansas School Boards Association and do you understand the differences between policies and laws that may be set by the state?

A: I will attend all board training if I am elected. I do know the difference between policy and law. Policies and procedures can be changed within our school. Laws must be abided by as they are set forth by the state. I will not be quick to follow all policies set forth by the Arkansas School Board Association. I will read each policy and if it makes sense and is logical for our schools, I will support it. That means just because something is recommended and set forth to work in schools in Little Rock that doesn’t mean we have to adapt the same. Not all areas are the same and common sense along with no fear of questioning something should be applied here. Just because a policy is questioned and studied doesn’t mean people should be ridiculed for it and accused of not supporting our school. We are all parents and taxpayers, and we have a right to question anything. Especially when our children are at stake.

Early voting begins Nov. 7 with the election on Nov. 14.