SUPERINTENDENT GROWTH PERSPECTIVE
Batesville, Arkansas, is the oldest township in the state. A place that is known as “The Christmas City” of Arkansas and recognized for its natural beauty, outdoor recreation, and historical site seeing and is now becoming a place known for an excellent education. Meet Michael Hester. Current Superintendent of the Batesville School District, an avid supporter of EAST, and most importantly, a believer that equity in society starts with investment in education. Batesville, one of 10 school districts in the state of Arkansas that has EAST at every level (elementary, intermediate, junior high, and high school), has been a part of the EAST network since 2009. When asked about the growth of the district and the role EAST played in its expansion, Superintendent Hester was more than happy to share his mission and passion for EAST and the students of Batesville.
As he serves his third year in the role of superintendent, Hester shared that he and the district allow the motto ‘students first’ to guide them as they strategize for success. The district outlines its goals for student achievement, attracting and retaining staff, efficiency and innovation, and better networking with partners. With Arkansas being a state that implements school choice’, school districts look for ways to remain competitive by using programs like EAST to attract and retain students and staff. Hester expressed that EAST is the cutting edge of innovation that the Batesville School District is looking for in their teaching pedagogy. “EAST is student-centered, and that puts STUDENTS FIRST! You always win as a school district when you are student-centered with teaching and learning.”
Research shows that when teachers are student-centered, students form deeper connections inside and outside the classroom. Once students feel connected, educators can help them maximize their potential and facilitate customized individual learning to the students’ interests. “Putting students first is what is happening at Batesville. EAST is a natural driver of that agenda, which has grown our district an additional 245 students in the last three years,” according to Hester.
Growth has been an essential part of the district’s success. Even with the additional students, Hester and the district leadership continue striving to create an environment where students feel safe and empowered to take a responsible risk with learning. That is why they believe programs like EAST are imperative to continued improvement. “Cultivating the climate of responsible risk-taking is a science and art much like teaching. Our mission in Batesville School District is to ‘Empower Today’s Students For Tomorrow’s Challenges.'' If students and teachers don’t see responsible risktaking modeled in their schools and community or are not empowered by their leaders, then we’ve missed the most significant opportunity we have in education, to influence the future.”
When Hester moved to Arkansas nearly four years ago, he had heard of EAST but had never experienced the program up close. He shared that his past experiences with other innovative programs made him excited about EAST. He describes himself as an instant fan of EAST because it is student-driven, and he was elated to learn that the district has been a member of
DID YOU KNOW?
Arkansas is one of 21, soon to be 22, states with ‘school choice’? School Choice giving parents the power and opportunity to choose the schools their children attend based on their needs, interests, and learning style rather than their address. www.edchoice.org
the EAST network for 11 years. “Our Batesville Junior High School was the first EAST program that implemented in our area in 2009-2010, and we have continued to expand due to the excitement exemplified by students and parents. We believe that all students should have access to the ‘good stuff ’, and EAST is the good stuff,” said Hester.”
Superintendent Hester recalls visiting with students to get feedback on how to improve the school district and set a strategic plan when he first stepped into the role. He expressed that he would reach out to EAST students first because they were known for problem-solving and taking risks in their daily learning. “They have become the leaders of our campus because of their innovation and independent learning skills. Creating a culture of responsible risk-taking is contagious once you empower students and staff.” The EAST students were not only helpful in developing the strategic plan but served as community liaisons and allies when changes were met with resistance from the adults in the community. Their message was to give the new thinking a chance and listen to all the details before judging it. Hester valued their tenacity and attributed the district being able to move the community forward because the students convinced the adults to take a risk themselves.
Two projects that the EAST students of Batesville school district have completed that have significantly impacted the community have been in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce and Pioneer Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in Arkansas. Because of these student-led projects, Batesville now has extensive bike trails and signage and has become a big economic development factor for the city in tourism. Pioneer Cemetery holds a lot of Arkansas history that is now more efficiently and creatively documented via a map. From past governors to civil war veterans and native Americans, the cemetery is now more visitor-friendly in efforts to preserve Arkansas’s history for generations to come.
“EAST has international projects where we network with other students and communities across the globe. These projects create networks and opportunities outside the state of Arkansas that students never knew where possible before they enrolled in EAST. The projects are handson learning with real-world experiences; it doesn’t get any better than that.” • Strong Instructional Leadership • Clear & Focused Mission • Safe & Orderly Environment • Climate of High Expectations • Frequent Monitoring of Student Progress • Positive Home-School Relations • Create Opportunities to Learn & Time on Task
RESULTS THUS FAR:
• Maintained the best district student achievement test scores in the area. • Progressed from last place to first place on teacher salary in the Independence County area because we found money in our innovation and efficiencies. • Implemented a 1:1 Chromebook initiative in grades
PreK-12 and grades 6-12 is a 24/7/365 day initiative to close the digital divide in our rural community for higher student achievement. • Batesville has the state’s first solar energy project and are pursuing a “Net Zero” utility bill status as a district to free up budget funds for teacher salaries. • Implemented the state’s largest energy efficiency project to help find money for teacher salaries.
EAST WAS SUCH A SUCCESS AT THE BATESVILLE JUNIOR HIGH THAT THE DISTRICT WANTED ALL SCHOOLS TO HAVE THE ‘GOOD STUFF’ SO THEY EXPANDED TO ALL FIVE CAMPUSES.
• Batesville High School - 2010-11 • Sulphur Rock Elementary School - 2013-14 • Eagle Mountain Elementary School - 2014-15 • West Elementary School - 2017-18