Fort Smith School Board Zone 3: Q&A with candidates Dee Blackwell and Ryan Goodwin

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 1,263 views 

Fort Smith Public School Board member Dee Blackwell is being challenged by Ryan Goodwin for the district’s Zone 3 position. The school board approved a new zone map with five single-membered and two at-large positions for school board members based on 2020 census data.

The school board elections will be held May 24 with Arkansas’ primary election. (Link here for the Talk Business & Politics story about the candidates who filed in each zone.)

Though all school board seats will eventually have a five-year term, as opposed to the three-year terms they had before, a straw vote will be held after the election results are certified to determine how long each seat’s term (one, three or five years) in order for elections of the positions to be staggered.

Each of the new zones have approximately 18,200 residents. Along with voting a person in their zones, voters will also select two at-large positions, so even if their board zone is not contested, they will vote for a candidate in the at-large positions. School Board member Talicia Richardson, in Zone 4, is the only candidate running unopposed.

Talk Business & Politics sent questions – with answers to each question limited to 200 words – to all candidates and will post the responses in a series by zone. Following are the responses from Blackwell and Goodwin.

• What do you believe should be the top three priorities for the Fort Smith Public School Board in the next few years?

1. Continuing a high achieving, quality education for all students that offers diverse pathways through aligned curriculum, expanded programs, and data driven results. Students may be college bound or looking for direct employment after graduation. FSPS has programs ready to meet those different needs and will continue to expand and widen those opportunities.

2. Focusing support for all staff including financial, mental health, professional collaboration, and professional development. FSPS has over 2000 excellent employees that are top professionals in their fields. As a board member, my goal is to make sure the framework is in place so that they may perform optimally in their individual roles.

3. Maintaining and realizing the full potential of the facilities now completed from the recent capital improvement endeavors. The Fort Smith and Barling taxpayers have funded beautiful, high-tech facilities, computers, and other high cost equipment for the district. It is important that the district has a comprehensive plan to properly maintain those facilities as well as utilize those resources through hosting events, expanding programs, engaging the community.

Goodwin:  I believe three of the priorities are as follows: Ensuring that teachers get the support they deserve, and need, ranging from classroom supplies to strict disciplinary procedures in place for their safety; Encourage policies that ensure the safety of the child’s mind as well as body; and, Push for policies and methods that use technology to make the curriculum and syllabus readily available.

• Do you believe the school board has a responsibility to moderate literature available to students, or do you believe that is best left to experienced administrators and faculty?

Blackwell: I believe that the school board has the responsibility to make decisions on the policies and concerns presented before it. However, the district has an efficient plan in place for moderating student literature and the school board is the very last step in that process. There are current Curriculum Policies that provide the framework for selection, inspection, and challenges to district instructional materials.

Additionally, staff trained in those specific areas are the best equipped to select literature and instructional material on the frontline. I believe in the expertise and experience of our highly trained and qualified staff to make those selections. Should it be needed, the role of the school board is to “serve as a final arbiter in resolving a challenge to any materials.”

Goodwin: I believe the school board is intended to be the link between parents and teachers/school administration and no one should have full carte blanche over any subject matter without the parents being made aware.

• There are several new charter schools in the area. What do you believe the Fort Smith Public School District should do to be an attractive option for students who now have more options?

Blackwell: Fort Smith Public Schools is already a large, premier school district in our region of the state. With the addition of the Peak Innovation Center and Schools of Innovation at both high schools as well as Darby Middle School, FSPS is leading the way in innovative and diverse career-focused opportunities for all students in our district. I anticipate that those programs will expand over the coming years as new needs are identified and opportunities are developed.

FSPS is also a strong district in athletics, the arts, and other extra curricular activities such as e-Sports, Quiz Bowl, and extensive Clubs/Organizations for student participation. With the grade realignment that moved 6th grade students to the middle school campuses and 9th grade students to the high school campuses, students are able to invest in these extra-curricular experiences even earlier in their public school career. There is truly a lane for every student.

Goodwin: I believe more focus on curriculum and education than capturing the hearts of students will increase the attractiveness of the Fort Smith Public School District.

Editor’s note: Link here for the Q&A response from Fort Smith School Board member Troy Ecklehoff and Phillip Whiteaker who are running for the district’s Zone 1 position. Link here for the Q&A response from candidates Sandy Dixon and Brittney Hall for Zone 2.