As Little Rock works to implement a community schools model which has been endorsed by the state, the city's first chief education officer was named Friday. Former Arkansas State Board of Education Chair Jay Barth will begin the new position next month.
Mayor Frank Scott Jr. made the announcement, calling Barth "a tried and tested leader." Scott advocated for the community schools model in October rather than a controversial plan that would have divided the Little Rock School District. A resolution was subsequently approved by the state board.
The district has been under state control for five years because of failing schools. Barth said there will now be a path for the return of local control.
"The question is no longer whether, but how," Barth said. "All now agree that the City of Little Rock has a crucial role to play in being sure that this return is not just a change in who is operating the LRSD, but that this return to local control can set the stage for a rejuvenation in opportunity for young people living in our most fragile neighborhoods."
Barth noted that while serving on the State Board of Education, he voted against the 2015 state takeover of the district, calling it a bad idea. In the years since, Barth said he and Scott have been talking about how to move forward, not only for the district, but also the city.
"I have every faith that the community school model provides us the best chance to create a different, stronger, better LRSD and a different, stronger, better Little Rock," Barth said. "But this position of chief education officer is not just about the implementation of the community school model, as important as it is, it’s also not just about LRSD, it’s about all the students in Little Rock."
The district will work with partners, including the Central Arkansas Library System, to create hubs in schools that will provide services to those in disadvantaged areas. Additional partners and details are to be announced later, the mayor said.
"This community schools model will focus on neighborhood revitalization, wraparound services, all focused on how we help our children create and achieve educational achievement," Scott said.
Initial funding will come from $500,000 allocated in the city budget approved by the Board of Directors on Tuesday.
Barth is retiring this month after being a longtime professor at Hendrix College in Conway. He will be paid $28.65 an hour as a part-time employee of the city.