Gov. Asa Hutchinson urged school board members to “ask the right questions on security” Friday, saying that parents must be confident their children are safe in order for schools to excel.
“Let me tell you: In this world today, a concentration on security and safety in the schools is paramount,” he said at the Arkansas School Boards Association’s Annual Conference. “If parents cannot have confidence in the school district and its security plan, then they’re not going to have comfort in terms of the quality of education. It starts with safety at the schools.”
Hutchinson’s comments came the day after an active shooter incident occurred at Arkansas State University where a suicidal man drove onto campus with a shotgun, forcing the campus to lock down during the police standoff. Ultimately the man was detained without incident.
“I thought it was handled very well,” Hutchinson told reporters after his speech. “The law enforcement and the first responders did an excellent job. I think ASU did a very quick and efficient job of notifying students, and that’s really the first test is how quickly the students are notified to take cover or to take action. And so I think from my preliminary view of it, it’s an illustration of how things work well and the situation was resolved without a shot being fired.”
Hutchinson told reporters afterwards that society must find the right balance between freedom and security. He said the state must be ready to respond to instances of violence and must better deal with mental health issues.
He said the United States had become “less aggressive overseas,” allowing terrorists to “play in our backyard more.” However, he said allies must be built among moderate Muslims and said Muslim theology must be distinguished from radical jihadism. “And that’s a distinction that’s important, and I think it’s been muddled because of comments of some, well, of one particular presidential candidate,” he said in reference to GOP frontrunner Donald Trump.
Hutchinson touted the success of his initiative to require all high schools to offer a computer coding class. He said almost 4,000 high school students have enrolled in such courses, with the largest increases over last year involving female students and minorities. On Thursday, more than 200 female students from across Arkansas participated in an “Hour of Code” event at the Governor’s Mansion.
However, many students are taking courses through the state’s Virtual Academy with help from a local teacher facilitator who is not a coding expert despite the state offering $5 million in grants for teacher training, he said. A couple of districts have zero students taking a coding class.
Hutchinson also emphasized the importance of coordinating job skills training between high schools, two-year colleges and industry.
Mike Poore, Bentonville superintendent, praised Hutchinson for those efforts but told him the ideas have not all filtered down to the practitioner level. He said he had one student who is ranked 800th out of a class of 1,000 but has learned eight computer languages in the computer coding class in less than a semester and will be offered a $50,000-a-year job when he graduates. But Poore said he as an administrator had to break the rules regarding the student’s pre-requisite courses in order for him to take that class.
“I encourage you to break more rules,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson spoke the day after the State Board of Education voted to take over the troubled Dollarway School District, making it the fourth district under state control.
“There’s not any way around that,” he told school board members. “If a school is not performing academically, that means that the children of that school are not having an adequate and equal opportunity as other children in the state for a good education.”