An Empowering Approach to the Future of Education
Transforming education in Arkansas through progressive teaching styles, innovative partnerships, and commitment to student success.
Education is not without its challenges. As the economy evolves, education has pivoted to meet the changing needs of the labor market by equipping students with the skills to succeed and by providing the right opportunities in the classroom.
There is a growing need for access to the newest technology in the learning setting and an ever increasing need for more teachers to prepare students for the challenges ahead. Although the pandemic also served to challenge educators and students, many school districts have made up for lost ground and are forging ahead with impressive curriculum offerings.
Greenbrier School District is a shining example of the dynamic educational focus that is taking shape as we put the pandemic behind us and welcome an exciting future for our students.
A Philosophical Foundation
Established in 1878, the Greenbrier School District began as a small, single-room school course. Since then, it has grown by an impressive margin, boasting an annual budget of $35M–$40M that serves 3800+ students.
There haven’t been any major consolidations in recent history. So, the district’s growth has been largely due to its own efforts.
Greenbrier Schools have always followed a candid philosophy. While they have a longer mission statement, the vision, stated simply by Superintendent Scott Spainhour, is “to do whatever it takes to help kids be successful.”
That goal begins with students learning how to read. According to Superintendent Spainhour, Greenbrier incorporates the Science of Reading, which includes word recognition and language comprehension, to honor its promise to get students to read at grade level by the third grade.
And while each school building within the district has a local vision supporting its student body’s uniqueness, their methods align with the student-first philosophy at the heart of every decision, policy, and hire.
Student-focused to its Core
Greenbrier’s philosophy comprises three core beliefs. The first closely relates to its philosophy and states that students must always come first.
Whether it’s implementing a new rule, building a new facility, or even altering the curriculum, if it doesn’t display a direct and obvious benefit to students, it’s something Greenbrier Schools won’t ever consider doing.
A prime result of this belief is the RISE Initiative, which ensures that every teacher within the district is fully trained on and implements the Science of Reading in all instruction.
As an institution, empowering its children is a paramount principle that is undoubtedly the secret behind their position as the district with the #2 Best Teachers (out of 242) in Arkansas, according to Niche.com
This sets the foundation for another of Greenbrier’s core beliefs: leadership and accountability are keys to the district’s success, which applies to school board members, administrators, teachers, staff, and students.
Recently, the board invested a large sum of its budget into building capacity in the schools’ guiding coalitions. The goal here is to work with teachers and staff to streamline and strengthen the leadership development process and ultimately function as a professional learning community.
The board also invested funds into security systems within each of its seven schools.
And by providing security features like advanced concealed weapons scanners, students have an increased peace of mind.
This core belief of leadership has brought in other incredible results like the first-ever Superintendent’s Student Council, co-created by Superintendent Spainhour and eight juniors and seniors from Greenbrier High School. This student voice opportunity allowed for a variety of students to express interest and get involved in what goes on behind the scenes of the classroom environment. It is an exciting new coalition of leadership proposing new initiatives to improve the student experience both inside and outside the classroom.
Advantages of the Non-traditional Classroom
The classroom atmosphere holds a deep significance to the district, as it is the cornerstone of their final core belief, which is that the classroom is the most important place in the district.
Dr. Kelli Martin, Deputy Superintendent, explains that within the last ten years, Greenbrier classrooms have superseded the traditional classroom environment.
“It could be anything from a performing arts stage to an English classroom, from a barn for our Agri students to a differentiated kindergarten classroom, from a local bank hosting an intern to the football field,” she describes, indicating that the characteristics of the classroom are tailored specifically to whatever subject the students are learning and whatever student needs are to be met.
The traditional classroom no longer meets every student’s needs nor their individual interests.
Greenbrier’s real-world approach ensures an equal distribution of intellectual and practical learning. Students gain knowledge and have the opportunity to practice technical and social skills that make real-world connections to what they learn.
Balancing Collaboration vs. Competition
Beyond the classroom, the Greenbrier School District collectively executes this balance of nurture vs. nature with what they call the Railroad Track Model.
Martin says to look at it like a set of railroad tracks, where one side is about “the results we have to get for students in our school community… [and] the other side is about relationships… to move down the track towards our mission and vision, we have to have a balance of both,” she explains.
Superintendent Scott Spainhour expounds on the model by explaining its practical application, saying, “when our kids are competing, we want them to [be] the best… we all want to be the best district we can be… so we look around and see what others are doing, how they’re doing it, and see how we can maybe do it better.”
“We’re competitive, we like being the best. But as far as our teachers and our kids, we have to be very nurturing. It’s a different world today than it was years ago, and kids need to be loved and need to be nurtured. They need to be cared for,” Spainhour says, explaining that the execution of this balance between nature and nurture allows Greenbrier to provide the kind of education to which its students will respond.
And it’s no wonder that the Railroad Track Model is so adamantly applied. With two of the district’s elementary schools being over 50% in the poverty range, another two elementary schools falling above 40%, and its middle and junior high schools sitting right at 40% – the sheer socio-economic diversity within the Greenbrier School District simply demands such attention to detail.
These children come from a wide range of backgrounds and need an equally wide range of resources to match their lived experiences, something that the entire district collectively accomplishes with amazing capability, as evidenced by their recent development of a new mental health department.
An Experience Built Around Partnerships and Technology
Because leaders like Spainhour understand the many paths students may take, creating an environment that allows them to exercise many choices is extremely important.
“Regionally,” Spainhour says, “we just partnered in a pre-engineering program… with Seal Solar out of Little Rock and Johnson Controls [to] put a program together…we built a hands-on mobile lab with our solar partners [where students can] learn and work on solar industry certifications…”
Greenbrier Schools understand that college isn’t for everyone, so they have provided alternatives for those inclined to pursue them.
However, they also understand that some students still want the traditional path forward, which is why, as Martin explains, they’ve partnered with the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton to allow students to earn concurrent credit toward an Associate of Arts Degree.
“Moving forward,” Martin describes, “with UACCM, [students] will be able to specialize in the type of degree [they are] interested in… it can range from business to communications, to childcare, to something in the medical field.” This emphasis on career and technical education is exactly why Greenbrier is the #5 Best School District in Arkansas.
That and the expert allocation of funds towards the district’s digital advancement, ensuring that students have access to state-of-the-art AI software, iPads, smartboards, drones, and robotics. And even these advancements have frontline support within the school’s Department of Technology, directed by BJ Burgess, a Greenbrier alum
A School District Worthy of Praise
With its clever application of technology, empathy, and savvy budgeting, the Greenbrier School District has created a culture of safety, progress, and individual choice for its students.
With layers of physical security, mental health resources, and professional development, it’s evident that any parent who wants to give their child an advantage should consider one of the seven schools with the Greenbrier School District as their top choice.
It is a place where teachers and students grow and, as indicated by Technology Director BJ Burgess’s presence, people will return to.
“You can see the passion, all the way down to the classroom,” Burgess describes, “from top to bottom, making it a place that students want to learn.”
In the wake of rising privatization and the push for more funding to go toward expensive charter schools, thus limiting the options of lower-income families, having such a front-runner like Greenbrier lead the way for public schools sets a hopeful outlook for the future of education.
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AT A GLANCE
What: Premier school district leading advances in technology and professional development
Where: Central Arkansas
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