Last night at Hempstead Hall Hope Public Schools Superintendent Jonathan Crossley hosted an information session/pep rally intended to explain to a sizable crowd of parents and school staff what they can expect and what will be expected of them over the next five years. The district has won a $15 million Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) Grant from the U.S. Department of Education, which will be dispersed from now to 2028.
Crossley said the meeting would be the first of a series that would occur every two months concerning the administration of the grant.
Accompanied by pictorial slides projected behind hiim, Crossley began his talk by acknowledging recent achievements by Hope Public Schools volunteers, staff and students. “You have the Yerger alumni group. They’re serving breakfast to teachers before professional development. You have the cheerleaders who placed third in their division this year, right? You have students who are receiving graduation diplomas in programs on the screen. We have the band, if you’re a band booster or member of the band, raise your hand. They have expanded this year and done a fantastic job and will be even bigger next year. Let’s get a round of applause for the band. There are things that we are undoubtedly already very proud of as Hope Bobcats. Our vision today is to highlight those things, maximize those things in the future and expose us all to what could be true in the next five years.”
At this point, Crossley explained that four months ago the district received word it had won the MSAP Grant, which will mean the district will receive about $3 million per year over the next five years. “Only 19 school districts in the entire country received this grant, right. We received it for a pre K through 12th grade model. So Miami Dade school district received a magnet grant. They have 400,000 students, and they’re going to impact 2,000 kids. We’re a school district with 10,000 people in the community, 2,300 kids in our system. We get to impact every single student in our system with this money.” He said that not only would the grant affect current students of Hope Public Schools but those yet to be born who will be starting school when the term of the grant is over.
Crossley described the state of the Bobcats Work program, which has placed 34 students in paid internships in the area. He also gave an update on fundraising for the Hope Legacy Scholarship Endowment. “Right now, we have secured pledges or no actual donations of $300,000 in the last three months, right? Our goal is to raise $2 million by Christmas, and $5 million by the following Christmas.”
The use of the endowment Crossley explained, too. “The purpose of this scholarship is going to be to make sure that kids who go through the program … graduate high school with associate’s degrees, graduate high school with skilled trade certificates, graduate high school with a year of college completed, and the private foundation will then be able to pay for scholarship money on the back end.”
Crossley said another goal for the use of grant funds is for Hope Public Schools to grow as a “catalyst for economic development,” to help lead to making Hope a more attractive place for businesses and residents to move into.
He also said improving and expanding the EAST (Education Accelerated by Service Technology) program, in which students work on solving community problems with technology, would be a goal for the use of grant funds.
The district, as Crossley said, will “reimagine the end result of a high school diploma” so that “hopefully by the end of this next five years, every kid that walks across the stage at Hope High School will either have an associate’s degree, a professional skill, training certificates, or a year of college. Just let that sink in for a while. That is a lofty goal. That is a big goal. I’m aware of it. But if we intentionally plan how we get there, I think it’s possible.”
He listed programs he had seen at public schools that the grant could enable in the Hope Public Schools district. “There are some school districts right now that you just go into high school. They have a performing arts program, thriving athletics program. They put on plays four times a year. They put on choir concerts that are amazing. They have service projects going on across the community. They’re running a newspaper, they’re doing broadcast journalism. And we just think, man, what a great high school. They didn’t receive $15 million from the grant performing at that high level. Why can’t we do it? Why can’t we be the best school district in southwest Arkansas period?”
The success of the Hope Academy of Public Service has led to the idea that other schools in the district have not received the same level of investment, Crossley admitted. With the grant, the district now has the chance to concentrate on bring more options to the other schools “to make sure no matter what campus you go to … you have excellent experiences for every single kid, and that you have the facilities that you need. If you had the Academic Advancement that you need, you have the resources that you need, and the extra curricular activities as you need to be successful. Students are nine times more likely to graduate high school if they’re invested in some sort of extracurricular activity. And right now, just point blank period, we don’t offer [them]. And so in the future, we definitely will.”
At Henry C. Yerger, Crossley said, the district will build on the $900,000 invested there in Science Technology Engineering Mathematics. “We’re going to continue that theme at Yerger. So we’ll expand robotics and science and agriculture, and the arts. We’ll put on multiple plays right here in Yerger every single year.”
Beryl Henry Elementary, he said, would continue as a STEAM school (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) but focus specifically on the arts, which would mean an expansion of the band and increased visibility in the community.
Under the grant, Crossley said, social workers would be hired who would help reach parents of children born in the district to get them up to speed in how to jump-start their children toward eventual school attendance. Research has revealed that children born in lower income households hear one million fewer words than those born in higher income households. This affects the ability of children to do well in school and can be addressed by greater engagement between schools and parents of younger children.
Throughout the presentation Crossley emphasized the need for volunteers from the community to get involved in the district’s efforts, in becoming mentors, assisting at school events and providing their own ideas.
During a question and answer session, Crossley said the district would welcome students living outside the boundaries of the district as the grant dispersion and implementation takes place. He said the grant did have restrictions on being used to fund building projects but could be used to improve current buildings. This does eliminate the possibility of using the grant funds to build a gym at HAPS, but frees resources that could be applied to that project. He also said the grant terms allowed flexibility in case the district decided to use funds for a purpose not included in the application now. In answer to a question from local physician Lavell Douglas, Crossley said the grant would allow for training of teachers to better serve students affected by traumatic life circumstances.
Near the end of the presentation, Crossley gave the microphone to University of Arkansas Hope-Texarkana Chancellor Holt. “Not only is this going to be a game-changer for students, we firmly believe that this is going to be a game-changer for families. It’s going to help them with sustainability and social mobility, all those things that will make Hope great place to be. And we want to say one thing that I tell students all the time is we want them to be boomerangs. So some of them may go out, but eventually they’ll come back.”
Other speakers included School Board President Linda Haynes, HAPS Principal Carol Duke, Jerry Pruden and Hope City Manager J.R. Wilson. All pledged their support to the effort of improving the schools. Current Hope senior Kelston Mast also spoke of how excited he was to hear of the upcoming changes.
After the presentation, the Hope Public Schools Board of Education held its January regular meeting.