The following is a transcript of Gov. Asa Hutchinson's Radio Column for the weekend of Jan. 15, 2016:
This afternoon I will be visiting three schools in Gravette, a small town in Northwest Arkansas. As a Gravette native, I am excited to get back to the place where I grew up on a farm on the Spavinaw Creek south of town.
When I was a teenager my family moved to Springdale where I graduated from high school. But I’ve always had a love for my farm roots and for Gravette. Perhaps, it’s because I had my first real job in Gravette. After school every day I shined shoes at Johnny’s barbershop. I built up quite a clientele and a year later I sold my shoe shining business for $25. Yes, I was quite the entrepreneur.
So, today I am going back to Gravette to recognize the good work being done for their students. When Principal Jay Chalk came to Gravette High School in 2012, roughly 45 percent of graduating classes were not planning on going to college or technical school.
Principal Chalk decided to change that statistic. He started looking into expanding Gravette High School’s course offerings to address the career needs of these students. Now, three career training programs are available at Gravette High School to help give students a leg-up after graduation. The programs include training in heating, ventilation and air conditioning, Certified Nursing Assistant and a new welding program.
All of these programs have three things in common. They are short-term, meaning students can complete them in just two years. They offer concurrent credit with a local community college. And, these programs offer professional certification, making students immediately employable after high school and after they earn their certificate.
And what are the results? In the past two years alone, Gravette High School’s graduation rate has increased from 80 percent to 90 percent. This increase is especially noticeable in Alternative Learning Students who are at a higher risk of dropping out. The career training programs are keeping these kids in school and motivating them to complete courses that lead to employment after graduation.
What’s being done at Gravette High School and throughout Benton County strongly aligns with my workforce initiative. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to equip students with job skills that meet the needs of industry. Whether it’s welding, teaching, computer coding or manufacturing, we must do our part to prepare our students for success.
Career training programs at Gravette High School and across Arkansas are helping drive our economy forward. They are providing opportunities for our young people to attain employment, setting them on a path to success in any career.
However, this effort is about more than the students. It’s about our economy and providing opportunities for every Arkansan to be successful in the workforce. Offering expanded career training programs with community partnerships is a combination that puts Arkansas ahead of the game.
Growing up in Gravette shaped my life many years ago, and I’m proud to see the high school shaping the lives of students today. Keep up the good work.