University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

It’s a Wrap! 2014 OEP Conference Recap

In The View from the OEP on May 21, 2014 at 11:21 am

The 2014 OEP Conference is officially in the books and we at the OEP would like to thank all of our speakers and attendees for making it a great day!

In case you missed the conference, we will be sharing photos, videos and other conference information in this blog post “recap” of events.

diplomaThis year’s theme was: Diplomas, Certificates and Degrees: Helping Arkansas Students Find Their Ideal Careers, and our focus was on college and career readiness. You can visit our conference website to access all of the speakers’ presentations and YouTube to view videos of the conference.

Gary Ritter, Director of the Office for Education Policy, opened the day by sharing our inspiration for this year’s theme, which is related to the “forgotten half,” those students who do not go on a four-year college. Ritter went on to say, “If we act as if four-year college is the only way to go, we’re clearly neglecting a large fraction of our kids.” The rest of the program focused on strategies being used at the state and national levels that seek to prepare ALL students for both postsecondary and career opportunities.


DSC_0013-1The first set of presentations focused on innovative programs that are currently in use in Arkansas that promote college and career readiness. Pictured at left are speakers Ken James, President of Arkansas AIMS, Matt McClure, Superintendent of Cross County Schools who spoke on New Tech Network, and Matt Dozier, Executive Director of EAST Initiative. Highlights from this section included:

  • Matt Dozier explained that EAST Initiative  is using “21st century tools to solve 21st century problems” by engaging students through the use of student-driven, technology-focused projects. For example, Harrisburg Middle School helped research and create a map of tornado sirens for their community. View the presentation here and the video here.
  • Matt McClure discussed the New Tech high school model and provided some keys for success in implementing the model: faculty buy-in, educating parents and the community, providing professional development activities and release time, and sending faculty members to become New Tech Certified Coaches. View the presentation here and the video here.
  • Ken James from Arkansas AIMS provided evidence that Arkansas AIMS is boosting the number of Arkansas students taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses and, in turn, increasing the number of students achieving qualifying scores on AP exams. View the presentation here and the video here.


DSC_0028Next came the presentation of the 2013 OEP Awards, honoring those schools who performed well, “beat the odds” and improved on the Benchmark and End-of-Course exams. A highlight of the awards ceremony was the presentation of the award “Most Improved Elementary School in Math” to Wilson Elementary of Little Rock. Wilson Elementary’s Tianka Sheard brought several K-5th grade students with her and spoke about how proud she was of the students for their improvement in their math achievement over the past few years. The crowd at the conference rose to honor Wilson Elementary with a standing ovation. View the OEP Awards presentation video here.


DSC_0096Our first national speaker was Caesar Mickens from Jobs for the Future, who presented an interactive workshop on the Early College High School model. Participants worked in their table groups to gain an understanding of the design elements of the model, such as the provision that allows students to earn their high school diploma and college credits, including a possible Associate’s degree, at the same time. According to Mickens, “We really concentrate on first-generation college students, low-income students, minority students.” Mickens said middle-class and upper-class students typically have parents who motivate them to push themselves academically, while students in the groups his organization targets often do not. An additional advantage of the model is that early college high schools can help students adjust to the rigor and culture of college before they actually make the leap. Table groups also brainstormed on how this model could work in their own community in Arkansas. View the presentation here and the video here.


shane broadwayThe next set of presentations were given by (from left) Gabriel Fotsing of The College Initiative, Taylor Scott and Josh Raney of Razor C.O.A.C.H. and Shane Broadway of Arkansas Works. These presentations focused on groups that are trying to increase the number of students who go to college by working with those students who would not traditionally consider pursuing higher education. View the video of these presentations here. Highlights from these presentations:

  • Shane Broadway’s presentation featured Arkansas Works, a state program that helps people get ready for jobs. Errin James, an Arkansas Works career coach who works with students at Augusta High School, said his school is starting to develop partnerships with local factories, “The biggest thing I’m taking away today is to bring better partnerships between the local businesses and the high school to get more input from manufacturers so our kids after high school will be ready to go straight to work.” View the presentation here.
  •  Razor C.O.A.C.H. is modeled after Arkansas Works, and places career coaches in 15 Northwest Arkansas high schools to help students determine their path after high school. A big part of the program is helping students navigate applications for college, financial aid and scholarships. Additionally, this year the program took more than 150 students and parents to visit the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville because most of them had never been on a college campus before. View the presentation here.
  • The College Initiative is a program developed by Gabriel Fotsing that operates in the Delta region and helps students apply to and succeed in college. Fotsing stated that while many students do not know much about how to get to college, they have the potential to succeed once they get there. The College Initiative seeks to provide these students with guidance for the transition from high school to college. View the presentation here.


DSC_0202The last panel of the day focused on future job prospects in Arkansas and how best to prepare students for those jobs. Reed Greenwood, Faculty Fellow of the OEP, moderated this panel and those serving on the panel included (from left) Warwick Sabin of the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, Mary Ann Shope of Pulaski Technical College and Randy Zook of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce. View the video of this panel discussion here. Highlights from this panel discussion:

  •  Warwick Sabin urged that Arkansas needs to consider the needs of today and the future. He stated, “We need to direct efforts toward innovation & creativity.” Sabin advised that his organization has found an excellent educational partner in the EAST Initiative, as the combination of cutting-edge technology tools and entrepreneurial ideals work well together.


raphiOur final national speaker was Raphael Rosenblatt (pictured at left) of Year Up. Rosenblatt narrated some of his personal history as a high school math teacher for Teach for America and how many of his students were unsure if they should go to college. Rosenblatt indicated that in his family, there was no question that he would go to college, but that not every American student has a similar experience. This is why programs such as Year Up are important–they provide young people with the tools and confidence to move forward in their professional lives. Year Up combines six months of intensive training and education with a six-month corporate internship. View the presentation here and the video here. Highlights from the presentation:

  • Students aren’t leaving high school with the skills needed to succeed in the work force.
  • Students’ skills and knowledge aren’t aligned with the needs of today’s job market.
  • The notion that high school students move directly into attending four-year college full-time is not feasible for most.
  • Teens who work or enroll in career exploration programs benefit in many ways such as better grades, lower dropout rates, lower teen birth rates and less involvement with the criminal justice system.

Recommendations for K-12:

  • Establish what it means to be both college AND career ready.

Challenge to teachers: Make time to incorporate four career experiences into your teaching so your students understand what comes after high school.

  • Strengthen ties between stakeholders (parents, students, teachers, employers, corporations)

Challenge to administrators: Work to reduce the barriers that limit conversations between these stakeholders.

  • Improve utilization of school counselors.

Challenge to counselors: Work with high school students to develop 6-year plans that focus on both college and career readiness.


We at the OEP are hopeful that this year’s conference initiated some important conversations about the challenges facing Arkansas high schools as they prepare today’s graduates for the jobs of tomorrow. As Gary Ritter stated, “The idea is to bring people together to discuss a common problem and discuss varying solutions to that problem and perhaps ideas will stick with some people.” Let us know what you thought of this year’s conference in the comments section or by emailing us at!

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