Fort Smith School Board approves new ‘Netflix’-like learning model, debates Southside auction funding

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 838 views 

The Fort Smith School Board approved a new “Netflix”-style learning tool called eduFACTOR at Monday’s (March 13) committee meeting and continued to debate fallout from the Southside High School mascot change that was approved by a different Board makeup in June 2015.

The Board kicked off Monday’s committee meeting by voting unanimously to approve new textbooks for science classes and career technical education (CTE). However, one of the items was not a textbook in the traditional sense. Taking a “Netflix”-like approach to CTE and STEM education (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), eduFACTOR is an online streaming service that presents students with a number of video-based lesson plans to supplement classroom learning. The simple pitch from the website defines the program as “Resources and tools … for educators and business leaders to inspire the next generation of makers.”

But to hear Martin Mahan, the district’s director of secondary education, tell it, that’s a bit of understatement. Mahan told Talk Business & Politics that the platform will include lesson plans, project-based learning, assignments, and templates for 3D printing.

The idea came to Mahan from Jason Green, vice-president of human resources at Baldor Electric. Mahan said Green was “spearheading a manufacturing focus and looking at some visionary ideas for the future, and he met with us and said this would be a great resource.”

“We’re going to implement it in career development, so students can see what it’s like to work with financial math and physics. They can look at application engineers, project managers, agricultural engineers. They can get information from people that are actually doing the job, what training they had, what their salary may be, and how they’re actually applying the content that we’re teaching in classes or learning the certification,” Mahan said, adding that eduFACTOR “lets students know it doesn’t necessarily require college; it just requires some credentials and training, and you’re career-ready.”

The tools will primarily be open to career development, which is an 8th grade career exploration course, but it will also be accessible for all CTE courses, grades 7-12.

“It’s like Netflix in that it keeps a record of what you’ve shown and what you’re doing with it. It’s a lot more detailed. It gives you virtual field trips, teaching STEMs, a platform to host an event. It’s much more than a video thing, but it’s also videos that aren’t boring videos. They’re very engaging. Kids may not know what a production engineer is, but when they see the video and do the assignments, they get a lot more out of it. It’s done in a very engaging format. They do logistics — all the careers we may not have a text or a course on, but the things they learn will transfer to that type of career, and we need to build the connections,” Mahan said.

The resource will be available at the district’s seven secondary schools on a yearly contract of $6,000, which Mahan anticipates will be paid through grant funding.

Also Monday, following the results of a special auction to liquidate old Rebels merchandise earlier this month, Board member Wade Gilkey moved to earmark the estimated $19,000 in proceeds to Southside. The motion was seconded by fellow Board member Bill Hanesworth, but rejected by Board members Talicia Richardson, Susan McFerran, and Yvonne Keaton-Martin. Board President Dr. Deanie Mehl and Board member Jeannie Cole were not in attendance. Before the meeting adjourned, Gilkey charged that Northside High School “would never be treated this way” if situations were reversed, adding that he didn’t “understand the animosity” toward the school.

“Southside did not ask for this change. It was forced on them,” he said.

Richardson reasoned the money should go back into the district-level fund used to purchase new uniforms and other materials that benefitted the Southside Mavericks rebranding.

In May 2016, Gilkey and Hanesworth, who were elected in 2015 after the controversial vote unanimously changing the Southside mascot, abandoned efforts toward a compromise that would keep the Rebels name while eliminating any callbacks to some of the more controversial Rebels imagery.