By Derek Oxford
ith the area’s population having swelled to over 500,000 people, the growth means that more children need to be educated.
Unfortunately, many school districts in Northwest Arkansas struggled to accommodate all of that growth within their limited facilities, but they have been working to improve that.
The area’s largest school districts are located along the Interstate 49 corridor, and they include Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville.
Bentonville High School was the largest high school in the state, but will be no longer when Bentonville West opens its doors this fall near Centerton.
The new school’s mascot will be the Wolverines. It will have a capacity of 2,250 students, although in the first year, it will only have ninth-through 11th-graders because many of the students in the 2017 graduating class said they preferred to graduate from Bentonville High School.
Students attending the Bentonville district’s new high school this fall will be getting to know not only a building, but also a police officer.
West High School’s opening means Centerton for the first time will have an officer assigned to a school.
The officers will be expected to be more than just guardians of the school’s safety.
“They obviously want to build a relationship with the school and the students and be part of the culture up there. Be a mentor, be a leader and set an example of what the kids need to follow,” Harper said.
Centerton’s student resource officer will drive a special pickup emblazoned with West High School’s wolverine mascot. The pickup is one Harper currently drives back and forth between his home and the Police Department, but it will go to the first full-time student resource officer this fall.
Detective Alex Wallace designed the layout and Chambers Sign Co. of Bentonville applied the graphics, Harper said. “It’s something to show school spirit and draw the community in, and it helps us to stand out from the crowd a little bit,” Harper said. “I hear nothing but positive things about it.”
Centerton Police Department employs 22 officers, including 18 who are full time. The other four are either part time or auxiliary officers, according to Mayor Bill Edwards.
The new high school will increase traffic in Centerton, but the city is ready, Edwards said. “We’re real excited about the school coming. There will be traffic issues, but we only anticipate those during peak times,” he said. “We’ve been doing a lot of road improvements. We’re ready to go. I think it’s going to be just fine.”
West High School won’t be Centerton’s first school. Centerton Gamble Elementary School opened in 2006. There’s also Life Way Christian School, which has about 575 students in preschool through grade 12.
School of Innovation
A new school year for the Don Tyson School of Innovation will come with the addition of an online program, a move to a permanent campus and a greater focus on career education.
“This is the realization of a dream,” said Joe Rollins, principal of the school, while recently giving a tour of the 143,000-square-foot building under construction on Hylton Road in east Springdale.
The School of Innovation started two years ago with about 200 eighth-graders at the Jones Center. This year it has 345 eighth-graders and freshmen. It’s a demonstration site for a series of projects the Springdale School District is implementing to personalize education using some money from a federal four-year Race to the Top grant of $25.88 million.
The School of Innovation is operating as a program of the district’s four junior high schools and two high schools. The Arkansas Department of Education granted the program waivers from some state regulations through a “school of innovation” law, so students can advance through courses at a faster pace.
The School of Innovation will become a conversion charter school in August, meaning it’s run by the School District. Through the conversion charter, school and district leaders are developing a Virtual Institute that will be open to students from across the state and will give School of Innovation students options for face-to-face instruction, online instruction or a combination of both.
Editor’s note: Information in this story was contributed by Dave Perozek and Brenda Bernet of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.