News & History

2022 IN REVIEW: Education

This article is the fourth of a series reflecting on the news stories that impacted Arkadelphia and Clark County in 2022.

By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian

As far as the community’s educational backdrop is concerned, 2022 will go down in Arkadelphia history as a tumultuous one, remembered as the year Henderson State University gutted its liberal arts program and sent dozens of its faculty into early retirement or seeking employment elsewhere.

It was also a big year for school districts throughout the county as each of its three public school systems saw a shift in top-level leadership. Here’s a glance at the headlines in local education news:

Peake Elementary School

The Arkadelphia Board of Education saw blueprints in January of what will become the new Peake Elementary School campus. By October, the school board gave approval to spend $26 million to build the campus. Since then, the old campus has been razed to make way for the new school; administration said in recent weeks that a groundbreaking ceremony is still on tap for January.

Turmoil for Henderson

It was early February when we broke the news that Henderson Chancellor Chuck Ambrose announced campus-wide furloughs in attempt to cut payroll costs. That measure, in addition to other cuts, saved the university $3.2 million. As faculty and staff returned to campus full-time this spring, 67 positions were eliminated; 44 tenured faculty members were given the opportunity to teach out their programs. In recent weeks, Ambrose reported that the university had made financial progress since the reorganization.

New school leadership

It was also in February that Arkadelphia Schools began a transition in administrative leadership as Superintendent Karla Neathery accepted the top spot at Sheridan Public Schools. Neathery’s vacancy prompted the school board to launch a search for its next leader. In a pool of some 20 applicants for the position, the school board hired native Badger Nikki Thomas to lead the district in May. The year also saw a shift in legislative leadership, as school board member Casey Motl was narrowly ousted in an election to Matt Johnson. The school board reorganized soon after, electing Blake Bell to serve as its president. Meanwhile, Gurdon and Centerpoint school districts also saw turnover in their top administrative positions.

More education news

While things were looking grim for Henderson, growth was being touted across the ravine. Ouachita Baptist University reported in February an influx in students — its highest spring enrollment in more than 25 years.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: How enrollment has changed for local school system, universities

We reported in March that the engineering program at Arkadelphia High School was getting cut as principal Callie Hunley reported the program had fizzled out in recent years. Hunley said the school would instead be shifting its focus on strengthening its mathematics program.

In other programs, the Badgers made their way well into the state playoffs, spending much of their gridiron time on a newly installed turf at Badger Stadium. Although the Badgers were eventually ousted in the state playoffs by their opponents’ last-second field goal, the Badger Pride Marching Band brought home its seventh consecutive state championship under the leadership of a new team of directors.

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