When Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key was asked to participate in a panel discussion about developing strategic partnerships with public schools, he asked Springdale Assistant Superintendent Shannon Tisher to join him at the Council of Chief Sate School Officers annual meeting in Atlanta.

Key and Tisher shared the panel with North Dakota’s Education Commissioner and his guest. Key said it was easy to select Tisher for the presentation.

“The Don Tyson School of Innovation in Springdale is one of the best examples of a school that has strategic partnerships,” Key said. “When they hosted a state board meeting last year, Shannon was the principal of the school. She was so impressive. It was obvious she was deeply engaged. Her focus was on unlimited access for student experience. 

“She is in a different role now but she could share stories about Arkansas and Springdale specifically. She has the track record for it.”

Tisher was honored to be asked and enjoyed the experience. She said, “I talked about student centered learning in Springdale and the partnerships we have in our community, specifically with Northwest Technical Institute, Northwest Arkansas Community College, the Springdale Chamber of Commerce, Workforce Ed and all our business and industry partners.

“Commissioners of Education from all 50 states and the United States territories were at the meeting. For those who attended our panel, we told them the DTSOI was created as a laboratory school and we are using many of its innovative practices district wide. I told them about International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement emphasis in our district and how we are trying to incorporate student voice and choice in our instructional practices.”

The responses Tisher and Key received confirmed the amazing work being done in the Springdale Public School District.

“Most of the people we talked to after the presentation were astonished at the amount of support our school district receives in the community,” Tisher said. “Some of the opportunities our students are afforded are unheard of in other states. 

“There are others who aspire to do what we are doing and some are in conversations about how it can be done. Commissioner Key is working hard to make Arkansas a leader in student focused learning. Dr. (Superintendent Jim) Rollins has been leading the charge and Springdale has put the plan into action. 

“Dr. Rollins has been innovative in personalized learning. In Springdale we have been doing it for years. The Arkansas Department of Education has allowed us the flexibility and Dr. Rollins’ passion and drive have moved us forward as an innovative district. Just the statement of ‘All means All’ in our mission statement of ‘Teaching Them All’ is the most innovative thing that could be attempted.”

Key added, “I received very positive response from the presentation. Those in attendance and the CCSSO staff raved about Shannon’s ability to share the Springdale story. You can hear the story and be impressed but when you visit the DTSOI, it takes being impressed to a different level. I have encouraged other educators in our state to visit the DTSOI. It took a lot of partnerships to get that school to where it is today.

“I would guess there are not a dozen schools like it in the United States and many of those are charter, not public schools.

“Another thing that impresses me is that when Shannon left the school for another position, the next leader (principal Kelly Boortz) was ready to add on to what already was being done. They have houses in place that allow their older students to mentor the younger ones. They have grades 6-12 and there is camaraderie across the board.”

Tisher added, “Going outside Arkansas was an eye opener to see how progressive Arkansas is in student focused learning. After the panel Commissioner Key told me every time he visits Springdale he is proud of the work we are doing. The DTSOI is a model but innovation is the focus of our entire district. Commissioner Key wants the same focus for every student in our state.”

Visiting with educational leaders from around the country confirmed to Tisher and many others that Springdale Public Schools are #THEChoice.