Lakeside School District
Putting Kids First
Fostering excellence, and building community engagement, Lakeside School District takes the educational lead
Lakeside School District in Hot Springs, Arkansas, is an exceptional community of schools that ranks among the top 3.7% of the best school districts in America and is renowned as one of the best places to teach in the state. The district takes great pride in being the central hub of its community, offering a wide range of opportunities and activities for students and families while promoting academic excellence and opportunities for success for all.
Lakeside School District’s Commitment to Students and Families
Superintendent Bruce Orr highlights Lakeside School District’s position as the heart of the community, where the campus remains open and accessible even when school is not in session.
Lakeside Schools also boasts an accomplished academic reputation and is committed to fostering an environment with a variety of pathways for students.
Orr notes, “We work hard at trying to find that niche that every kid can fit in. Not just great extracurricular activities, not just great academics, we have a very strong fine arts program, and we try to make sure that every program gets equal footing. Some schools might emphasize one or two programs, but we try to make sure that we have great programs across the board.”
With competitive staff compensation that ranks fifth in the state for teacher salaries, the district also celebrates the fact that a considerable number of its alumni are Lakeside employees.
“We have about 240 certified teachers, and a pretty significant number are graduates of Lakeside Schools,” says Orr. “We grow a lot of our own, not only teachers, but our leadership team, teachers that are coming up through the pipeline, we pour a lot into that.”
Orr emphasizes Lakeside’s commitment to creating a vibrant educational environment where parents are actively involved with the school community. Uniquely, all of the school buildings, spanning from primary to high school, are conveniently situated on a single campus, allowing for frequent interaction with parents.
“Our district team doesn’t stay in the central office, we get out, we help with drop off and dismissal. That way we are around our parents a lot, and our parents become very comfortable with us,” he describes.
“I’m about to begin my 19th year at Lakeside. A vast majority of our parents have my cell phone number. They like to tell me when something great has happened, or if they have a concern or an issue or maybe heard something, they know they have direct access to me. We try to be very approachable to our families in our community.”
“We have a very robust Pee Wee elementary sports and activities program. So, it’s very typical for an evening to have six or seven flag and youth football teams using our field. We also have a youth volleyball League, so our gyms will be filled with little ones playing volleyball. When you have kids now, so much revolves around their activities, that’s where their friend groups come from. We like for Lakeside to be the hub of that family experience.”
Community Engagement and Partnerships
Lakeside School District strengthens its focus on community engagement through a variety of events and programs, including the Kindergarten Round-Up, which is part of the spring registration process and serves as a festive gathering for families with incoming kindergarteners.
This event provides an opportunity for parents and children to meet fellow students, interact with staff, and connect with other families. The district also organizes community-building activities like the Trunk or Treat festival, creating a fun and inclusive atmosphere. Furthermore, Lakeside demonstrates its commitment to the community by offering a “parents’ night out” program, providing parents of children with disabilities with respite and support.
Lakeside has a strong presence in the Special Olympics, with initiatives like the Partners Club, which unites students with and without disabilities on unified sports teams, promoting a sense of belonging and teamwork. Hosting multiple Special Olympic events throughout the year further reinforces the district’s dedication to an inclusive and supportive culture.
Solid alliances with the broader community are also important, as Orr stresses, “The way that a school thrives is when the community is thriving. I have to talk all the time with our police chief, our fire chief, our city manager, the people at the Chamber of Commerce, our hospital leaders.”
“We all have to work in this community, and we have to kind of give and take a little bit.” Noting that the district is in the tourist community of Hot Springs, which relies on student workers during the busy summer months, he remarks, “We can’t make decisions that solely impact Lakeside, and our kids, we have to think of the broader context of that because we do live in the community.”
The Evolution of Lakeside School District’s Educational Approach
In recent years the district has experienced a significant shift in its educational approach. Previously known for its academic focus primarily on college readiness and AP courses for academically advanced students, Lakeside has evolved to make this education accessible to a more diverse student body.
“We went to more of, ‘if it’s good enough for our best, it’s good enough for the rest’. We looked at who else could be taking these classes that we’re not identifying,” Orr acknowledges.
He says that as the district expanded its AP offerings, many teachers expressed interest in teaching courses beyond the traditional ones. “Whether it’s AP or whether it’s other areas, we love to see our students challenging themselves. We think that you can’t grow unless you get uncomfortable, and stretch yourself. The College Board and our AP program play a big role in that.”
The adoption of Project Lead the Way, a comprehensive K-12 program, offers students an opportunity to engage in STEM curriculum starting when they enter school, all the way to biomedical, computer science, and engineering tracks at the high school level.
“We start kids with STEM in kindergarten, they go to a class weekly, they do some really neat activities,” portrays Orr. “There’s one where Kindergarten students read the story of The Three Little Pigs. Then, they get various materials, and they try to build a house. We turn the fan on, and if their structure gets blown over, then they have to decide why it did and what happened to it. They learn about the importance of foundation and structure, and they start building those early engineering concepts and problem-solving.”
Adapting the curriculum to align with the evolving job landscape, the Lakeside School District recognizes the importance of offering career and technical education and collaborates closely with local businesses and the Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce to ensure that its educational programs meet the community’s workforce needs. To provide students with insights into local job opportunities, Lakeside plans to organize field trips to area businesses, particularly during periods when traditional classroom instruction might be less effective, such as leading up to holidays.
“We have also had some of our local business managers come in and talk to our teachers about what employment skills they’re looking for in the community because a lot of our people end up staying right here in Hot Springs,” he conveys.
“Knowing what the job opportunities are, and what skills they need, is something we have emphasized, but we’re really about to ramp that up over the next two or three years.”
Furthermore, the district’s Legacy Program, in partnership with National Park College, enables students to earn more than 60 hours of concurrent college credit while still in high school. Orr stresses, “Our job force, especially in Arkansas, is changing. There’s a lot of opportunities in those career and technical fields.”
With a growing emphasis on skilled trades, he conveys that National Park and Three Rivers Technical School are valued partners in providing these high-demand skills to students.
A focus on Safety
Safety is a top priority for Lakeside School District, which has a police force of three full-time officers dedicated to patrolling the campus and ensuring a safe environment. In addition, Lakeside provides mental health services through two on-site therapists in partnership with an external agency.
The district also has a health clinic on campus in collaboration with CHI, a local hospital, offering medical services to students and staff. The ACE (All Created Equal) program, is another Lakeside initiative, functioning as a food bank and clothing closet to provide discreet assistance to families in need. To prepare for tornadoes, an ongoing concern in the region, the district has constructed three shelters on campus, with the capacity to accommodate all students and staff during significant weather warnings.
Lakeside School District firmly adheres to the principle of “kids first.” Their vision statement reflects this commitment, underscoring that every decision made within the district is driven by what is best for the students.
Orr summarizes, “Sometimes it’s easy to make decisions that benefit adults. Don’t get me wrong, we try to take great care of our adults, but ultimately, when we’re making decisions, it goes to what’s best for kids. That’s what drives the budget, governance, leadership, things like that.”
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AT A GLANCE
Lakeside School District
What: A forward-thinking school district focusing on student success and community engagement
Where: Hot Springs Arkansas
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