AHS program gets ax; school shifting focus toward math

By Joel Phelps
The Arkadelphian

Arkadelphia High School is doing away with its engineering program — the “least popular program on campus” — and shifting its academic focus toward mathematics.

Following a 40-minute executive session Tuesday in which the Arkadelphia Board of Education discussed reassigning positions and voted for said measure in public, Superintendent Karla Neathery asked AHS principal Callie Hunley to explain the future of the school’s engineering program.

Hunley said the engineering program was the “least popular” one, and later told The Arkadelphian the program has fizzled out over the years. Hunley also said the program cut will take effect next school year. She told the school board the equipment is dated and “very expensive” to replace, and that financial support from Danfoss is no longer available.

Instead, the school will be emphasizing its mathematics. “We do not have a very strong math program,” Hunley admitted, adding that, if that program were stronger, students with engineering aptitude could excel beyond high school based on a stronger math background.

“Right now I can’t say that with confidence,” she said of AHS students’ math scores. “I feel like we need to focus on that math program so that they have that background they need for it, and they’ll excel in engineering. We’re struggling right now.”

One school board member said his two children were straight-A students until they reached high school, and their math grades were the reason for that dip in scores. “And they say it’s because they don’t understand the instruction,” he said.

Hunley said she intends to implement a directive requiring each certified math instructor to teach at least one algebra course to help with the school’s math program.

AHS has a robotics team that falls under the engineering umbrella. “Robotics is the popular thing in the engineering program,” she said, acknowledging that robotics also falls under the state-mandated computer science program. “We feel like we can make that transition” in order to keep the robotics team, Hunley said, noting there are grants available to make that happen and to revive robotics.

Board member Gina White inquired whether there are any students enrolled in engineering classes who wouldn’t be able to finish their completer courses. Hunley said those students would likely have the option to finish via Virtual Arkansas or through the school’s existing computer science program to count toward those credits.

Board president Casey Motl lightened the mood by asking if the school could offer a curriculum in confection given the recent news of Hostess Brands choosing Clark County for a production location. Hunley said she had indeed considered the possibilities. “We’ve thought of everything to put Hostess in our schools,” she said, listing marketing and EAST Lab programs as ways to incorporate the company into the curriculum.

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