Fort Smith Public School District pursuing Purple Star designation

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 819 views 

The Fort Smith Public School District is on its way to becoming a Purple Star District in a move district officials hope will show commitment to serving military-connected families living in the district.

“The District is eager to complete the necessary requirements to achieve Purple Star District status and to continue to meet the unique needs of military youth in our area in a more formal way. It is a fantastic opportunity to connect with this important group of youth and their families as they call Fort Smith home for a short or extended period of time,” said Dr. Michael Farrell, supervisor of Student services. Farrell is the district’s military liaison.

Fort Smith is home to a large number of military families due to its close proximity to the 188th Wing at Ebbing Air National Guard Base, Arkansas Air National Guard and the Fort Chaffee Joint Maneuver Training Center, Farrell said. It is important for the schools to achieve the designation not only to show their commitment to the 200-plus military families already within the district, but also because of a proposed new military mission at Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith.

The base was selected last year by the Air Force for a long-term pilot training center supporting F-16 and F-35 fighter planes purchased by countries participating in the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. It is estimated that 345 U.S. military personnel will be part of the center along with an estimated 180-plus members of the Singapore unit and around 300 dependents. Training and aircraft from Finland and Poland may also be part of the FMS site in the future.

According to the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE), the Arkansas Purple Star School Award for military-friendly schools recognizes schools that show a major commitment to serving students and families connected to the military. There are 47 Arkansas schools listed on the ADE website, including six in the Greenwood Public School’s District and Christ the King Catholic School in Fort Smith.

New subdivisions recently built and under construction at Chaffee Crossing in Fort Smith are split between Fort Smith Public Schools and Greenwood Public Schools. On average military students move about every two years, said Dr. Tiffany Bone, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.

“And that can be tough on a child, so we want to be able to get the training necessary to support these students when they move in and to give them the extra resources that we can have available to them by achieving that Purple Star status,” Bone said.

The Department of Defense says the average school-aged military-connected child will experience six to nine different schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.

“Mobility is difficult. It is difficult for these students, and it is difficult especially if your families are going through deployment,” Farrell said.

He said as military families transition to Fort Smith, it is important they know that the district is welcoming and supportive of military-connected children and their families. The Purple Star District designation will help the district to achieve this awareness among military families in the community.

All district schools are beginning the process to become a Purple Star School, Farrell said. Once the schools fulfill the required activities as outlined by the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education, they will become Purple Star Schools. The district has met two of the required activities to become a Purple Star District. The FSPS school board passed a resolution Jan. 24 of the district’s support for military-connected students and families. And the district has a dedicated page on its website, under the Our Families tab, featuring resources for military families.

The district will continue working toward achieving Purple Star District status by fulfilling the other requirements for each school. Each school must have a school military liaison, who must train on special considerations for military-connected students and families. That liaison will identify and inform teachers of military-connected students in their classrooms and the special considerations military-connected students and families should receive, the ADE website states.

The district also is in the planning stages of hosting a military recognition event for military-connected students and their families. This is an optional activity to demonstrate a military-friendly culture, Farrell said.