ADE Blog Post


Learning Doesn't Stop.

With school now entering its third week, I want to take a moment to say “thank you” to the students, teachers, parents, and administrators who have shown their commitment to education here in Arkansas. If you asked me six months ago if I ever thought we would find ourselves guiding an education system through a pandemic, I would have said it was highly unlikely. I did, however, know that if we were ever faced with challenges, our educators and students would rise to the occasion and they certainly have!


What COVID has taught us is that thinking outside the box is a necessity. We now have systems and best practices in place we never thought possible just six months ago. We have seen communities rally together with students’ best interests at the center, we’ve seen innovation take its rightful place at the forefront of education, and we’ve seen educators take multi-tasking to a whole new level. 


With the help of additional data points now available through our partners at the Arkansas Department of Health and Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, schools now have access to up-to-date data to help them make decisions that not only allow them to continue providing an excellent education but also allow them to keep student safety the upmost goal and objective. This is data we did not have just a few weeks ago, much less six months ago when the pandemic hit. We’ve learned a lot these last six months, and we continue to learn as we move forward. That’s what education is all about, right?


While there is no doubt that COVID has dealt us a pretty big blow these last six months, we’ve remained united and have stared it directly in the eye. Learning did not stop this spring when school buildings closed, and this school year we are more than ready. Educators and students all around the state are going toe-to-toe with COVID each and every day, and no matter what may come, we stand committed to be there to support them every step of the way. Learning cannot stop; learning won’t stop. Our students and our future deserve and depend on it. 


Johnny Key

Secretary of Education


Despite the Emergency, All Still Means All

By Arkansas Department of Education Secretary Johnny Key


We are no doubt living in unusual times. When the decision was made more than a month ago to close Arkansas public schools to on-site instruction through April 17, we were cautiously optimistic that onsite instruction would resume before the end of the school year. COVID-19, however, had other plans, and while the effects of the virus eventually diminished any hope of returning to school, our educators responded quickly to counter the negative learning impact the COVID-19 crisis would have on students. 


It’s no surprise that Arkansas’s teachers have found innovative ways to continue the learning process. You don’t have to look far to see the evidence. Many educators are reaching out to their students and parents on a daily basis. Some are holding virtual classroom sessions so their students can stay connected with them and with each other. School counselors are actively engaging their students, especially their seniors to offer words of encouragement and share the latest scholarship opportunities available.


This creativity has also extended beyond the school building and into parking lots and buses. Not only are buses being used to deliver meals and education assignments, many schools are expanding internet access to buses and school parking lots to allow students who don’t have connectivity at home the opportunity to complete classwork while still upholding social distancing best practices. Other schools have refocused funds to quickly purchase additional technology devices so students who don’t have internet access at home can have access to online learning resources. 


All of these efforts, plus many more, demonstrate what we have quickly come to know: School is much bigger than the four walls of a traditional classroom. Learning can and does occur anywhere students and teachers connect in creative, comprehensive, and engaging learning activities. In today’s world, that just happens to be through computer screens, cell phones, and yes, via old-fashioned paper and pencil. While it’s not ideal, it’s not wrong. As I’ve said before, we can’t let perfect become the enemy of good.


While it’s important to stress that learning has not stopped, it’s equally as important to emphasize that learning for ALL students, especially for those with special needs, continues despite present circumstances. No doubt our present situation has its fair share of challenges for all students, but our teachers are more committed than ever before to ensure all students have access to the educational services they need to succeed. 


Our commitment to these educators and students has not wavered either. While now is a time for flexibility, our dedication to education remains strong and secure. At this time, the federal government has not waived any requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. All students, including the more than 76,000 students with disabilities, deserve a quality education, and we are working with schools to make sure that happens. 


As schools continue remote learning, it is vital that they ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to education and support. IEPs remain in effect, and schools should, to the greatest extent possible, continue to provide the services identified in a student’s IEP. Schools are encouraged to consider ways to use distance learning and other alternative methods of instruction to meet their obligations to provide a free appropriate public education to students with 504 plans or Individualized Education Programs.


To help teachers and schools meet these objectives, the department has issued guidance and shared resources regarding special education instruction, which is available on the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education’s webpage: We also are staffing an Alternative Methods of Instruction hotline (1-833-353-6050) to answer AMI questions from districts, teachers, parents, and students.


While instruction through the rest of the school year is focused on core content, it also is essential that special education and general education teachers work together to ensure lessons are consistent and appropriately meet the needs of all students, no matter their current circumstances and access to technology.


This collaboration extends beyond the school level, though. Families and guardians play a critically important role in student learning on any given day, especially now and especially for students in need of special education services. The Division of Elementary and Secondary Education encourages all those responsible for the care and education of students to work together to build relationships that foster trust and wellbeing, then work together to ensure that educational expectations and goals turn into realities and accomplishments.


This also means that schools must make every effort possible to meet required timelines and hold IEP meetings virtually or by phone with parents to discuss student progress and determine appropriate education and services. This is critical, as it impacts the need for future supports to address potential learning loss during this time. When restrictions are lifted, schools and IEP teams should review student progress to determine whether or not adjustments are needed to the future education and services provided to students.


A month ago, I never thought we would live in a world where human contact is discouraged, school buildings would be closed, and a feeling of uncertainty would prevail. I always knew, however, that if the need arose, our educators would be ready for any situation. Not only did Arkansas’s educators refuse to hesitate, they quickly adjusted to the situation and made, as always, our students a top priority. There’s no doubt in my mind that together we will get through this and will be stronger than we were before. Together, we are overcoming challenges and exceeding expectations. Together, we ARE leading the nation in student-focused education.


G.U.I.D.E. for Life

All Arkansas students should graduate with a strong foundation of academic knowledge, experience, and proficiency. To be successful, students also need an equally strong foundation of soft skills – those intangible abilities that help people get along with others, communicate well, and make positive contributions in the workplace and beyond.


The Division of Elementary and Secondary Education has identified five guiding principles that support educators, business leaders, communities, and students in their efforts to help all Arkansans develop these critical skills. The principles represent skills needed to thrive at home, school, on the job, and in the community are: Growth (manage yourself), Understanding (know yourself), Interaction (build relationships), Decisions (make responsible choices), and Empathy (be aware of others).


The G.U.I.D.E. for Life program, with the support of Arkansas counselors and educators, is designed to give K-12 students a plan – a five-step process – that they can follow to achieve personal success. Each principle is summarized in easy-to-understand key words, with three action points to explain the idea. By incorporating the G.U.I.D.E. for Life concepts throughout the school experience, we can help instill these “real-world” skills for success in all Arkansas students. The result? Well-rounded citizens, stronger communities, and more effective employees.


Decisions, Decisions


I am a product of the days of only having three television stations to choose from, having to look up information in a card catalog, and having to memorize or look up someone’s phone number in a phone book, and then proceed to dial them up on a rotary phone. Am I dating myself? Don’t answer that. Today, kids live in a microwave society where technology provides instantaneous access to millions of sources of information with the click of a button. With so many options available, choices become more complex and students may often struggle to navigate the decision-making process. 


Responsible decision making really is the epitome of every personal competency that we attempt to instill in our students. As we work to equip students with the tools they need to be successful both in and out of the classroom, responsible decision-making is one of the most vital and challenging of all.  As educators, there are some simple things that we can do to help students become more confident, responsible decision makers:


  1. Model: Teachers make hundreds of decisions daily, none without impact. Taking the time to verbalize our thought processes to students during the course of the day, as well as recognizing and celebrating when students make good choices not only reinforces this important skill, but assists in creating a positive classroom culture.


  1. Embed: Good decision making is a personal competency that can be easily embedded into any lesson plan. By using your content area curriculum to highlight important decisions and how people in the lesson (literature, history, math) reach a conclusion, role-playing, and problem solving/decision making using the scientific method, you are offering relevant, real-world examples of positive decision making.


  1. Empower: Students generally fall somewhere on the spectrum of not making any decisions at all due to a lack of confidence or fear of making a wrong choice, impulsive decision-making that doesn’t consider consequences or situations, and responsible decision-making that evaluates how actions affect themselves and others.  Regardless of where your students fall on the spectrum, remember mistakes are proof that they are trying.  Creating an environment where students feel safe enough to fail because failure is how we learn gives your students the gift of confidence they need to become good decision makers.


A Matter of Life and Death


Tragically, America is in the midst of a national crisis with the growing Opioid Epidemic. While some may not see how this relates to school-age children, educators are in the trenches daily and experience the very real and tragic impact the crisis is having on students.  “A new study from researchers at the Yale School of Medicine has given insight into the effect of the opioid epidemic on infants and school-aged children. The JAMA Network Open study found that the use of prescription and illicit opioids caused the deaths of almost 9,000 children and adolescents in the United States between 1999 and 2016. During the same time, the pediatric mortality rate from opioid poisoning increased more than twofold”, according to Michael Devitt of the American Association of Family Physicians.


At the same time, Carol Levine of, reports that on any given day teachers encounter students who are “at risk for accidental ingestion of toxic substances at home, living with addicted parents/caregivers and dealing with fear and anxiety, being removed from their homes and placed in foster care due to the ravages of addiction, experiencing the stress of having to become caregivers for siblings or addicted parents, as well as being exposed to toxic levels of stress that can impair brain development.” We must become passionate about equipping our children to make responsible, safe decisions - it truly is becoming more and more an issue of life and death.


Red Ribbon Week 2019: Send a Message. Stay Drug Free.


Red Ribbon Week (October 23-31, 2019) is the perfect opportunity for your school to have fun and emphasize the importance of making responsible choices in order to help Arkansas students to grow up safe, healthy, and drug-free. The theme for this year’s campaign is: Send a Message.  Stay Drug Free.


I recently sent out the all-call for schools around our state to fill me in on how they were helping students make good decisions in regard to living a healthy, drug-free life in celebration of this national event. I was so impressed by the responses I received - talk about having a difficult time making a decision!!


Thank goodness there were no wrong choices to be made in this case. Every submission was fantastic - Arkansas teachers and schools are knocking it out of the park in meeting the needs of the whole child through providing student-focused education.  Awesome job! Here are just a few of my favorites from the schools who responded to our survey: 


The Academies of West Memphis - West Memphis, AR: The Academies of West Memphis Show Choir, under the direction of Amanda Daly, toured elementary schools in the district performing an anti-bullying Broadway-style production. If you haven’t seen the videos of their production numbers on social media, I encourage you to take the time to look them up! Such talented students using their gifts to raise awareness and create positive change - BRAVO!!


Carolyn Lewis Elementary School - Conway, AR: Mentors Empowered : Wampus Cat Leadership Team: High school student leaders will be working with the students in our school to model and encourage making good choices.


Centerpoint Elementary - Amity, AR: We created a community outreach video to promote drug free choices (even the governor participated)! We know that safe, healthy choices lead to a drug free life. Together we are working to make our children aware of the importance of making positive choices and the consequences of using drugs and alcohol.  We are also focusing on the importance of choosing good friends and being a good friend.


Huntsville High School - Huntsville, AR: We have a group of students that work to raise community awareness in order to put an end to tobacco use.  They are led by a local community group, the Madison County Health Coalition, and meet regularly.  We are also putting together an ambassador program of student leaders that is planning Red Ribbon activities for the week of October 28.  These activities include guest speakers, assemblies, drug take back day, and other ways of raising awareness of the dangers of drug and alcohol use.


Lake Hamilton School District - Hot Springs, AR: Our district wide Red Ribbon Spirit Week is called "The Greatest Show of Me is Drug Free" (circus theme). Over 2,000 students will take part in this pep rally that is the highlight of the year for most of our students.  Our Red Ribbon Week activities make a huge impact because they start the conversation of the importance of being drug free.  We publicize our drug free spirit week on a billboard in town, as well as all of our digital outlets (social media, web, school app, etc.).  Prevention starts with conversations, and we hope that our drug free spirit week encourages parents to begin having these conversations with their children at home, just like we are having at school, on the reasons a student should choose to be drug free.


Russellville High School - Russellville, AR: Our Interact Club is sponsoring Red Ribbon Week. We will have a banner to sign, red balloons (Think It) to remind students that drugs are scary, wear red clothing, and many other things to promote drug awareness and a drug-free lifestyle.


Looking for a year-round prevention activity?


Plant the Promise is a wonderful way to celebrate Red Ribbon Week while incorporating G.U.I.D.E. for Life personal competencies. Students plant red flower bulbs in the Fall (INTERACTION: Collaboration) which bloom in the Spring, and serve as a reminder of the importance and the beauty of living a drug free life (DECISIONS: Make responsible choices). Additionally, it provides a chance to enjoy the outdoors, connect with nature, take a break from daily stress (UNDERSTANDING: Mindfulness) and see the rewards of something beautiful you’ve nurtured (GROWTH: Persevere).  I can’t think of a more beautiful, sustainable way to celebrate and encourage making responsible, healthy choices.


Spotlight on Success - We Want to Hear from YOU!

Want to see YOUR school featured on our G.U.I.D.E. for Life Blog? Fill out the attached survey and let us know the innovative ways you are embedding G.U.I.D.E. for Life principles into your curriculum and school culture! 


If you have questions or are in need of assistance regarding G.U.I.D.E. for Life implementation please fill out this form, and I will be happy to contact you. I am honored to provide leadership, support, and service as we work together to facilitate implementation of the G.U.I.D.E. for Life personal competencies that promote learning and success for all students in Arkansas.


For details, refer to G.U.I.D.E. for Life – 5 Skills for Personal Success.