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story.lead_photo.caption The Sentinel-Record/Grace Brown SMALL GROUPS: Lakeside Kindergarten teachers, from left, Kim Bryant, Amber Rottinghaus and Randi Blackstead work in a small group Monday during a workshop at Lakeside High School. The Garland County PD Mini-Conference provided sessions and workshops for K-6 staff at Lakeside High School and 7-12 staff at Hot Springs Junior Academy middle school.

Students in all seven public school districts in Garland County were off on Monday as more than 1,200 certified employees gathered at two local schools for their first joint professional development conference.

Faculty and staff for kindergarten through sixth grade convened Monday at Lakeside High School. The Hot Springs Junior Academy middle school played host to faculty and staff for grades 7-12.

"It is a good thing we are all being brought together for what will be some really great speakers," Cassandra Dixon, facilitator of the Environmental and Spatial Technology program at Hot Springs Intermediate School, said.

"The fact all of the districts are being brought together in one place makes me feel like it is going to be extremely good professional development. That is a really positive thing and it is always good to have consistency across a county."

"Too often we are isolated in our classrooms and we do not know the great things that are happening next door to us or in a school across town," Amy Counts, who teaches seventh-grade literacy at Lakeside Middle School, said.

"This way, we get to share our successes with everybody. I think it is better than bringing in an outsider, because we are more likely to listen to people we know here. We all have similar kids and we are all facing the same kinds of problems in this area."

The Dawson Education Service Cooperative in Arkadelphia helped coordinate a countywide professional development event in August a week before school starts as the county's districts continue to work closer and closer together. More than 1,600 certified and classified employees filled Horner Hall at the Hot Springs Convention Center.

The seven superintendents meet in an educational council each month with National Park College President John Hogan and other local leaders. Other administrators and directors followed suit and made plans to hold a conference together. Each district aligned their calendars to allow for professional development on the same day.

"By having the collective Garland County educators come together for professional development, we have been able to collaborate and see what is going on across the districts and in other schools," Jil'Lana Heard, library media specialist at Lake Hamilton High School, said.

"That way, we can see what projects are going on, we can collaborate together, see if there is some really good technology in one school we would like to get in ours and we are very thankful that our administrations had the foresight to be able to bring us together in unity."

The districts considered topics and logistics in planning the Garland County PD Mini-Conference. Lakeside Superintendent Shawn Cook and Hot Springs Superintendent Stephanie Nehus each volunteered to provide a site.

"We are thrilled to host secondary school teachers here at Hot Springs School District," Nehus said. "It is an exciting time bringing the whole county together to professional development, highlight our star teachers across the county, and share best practices and great instructional strategies. It is an exciting day."

Most of the presenters are on staff for one of the seven school districts. Programs included an array of topics, such as conflict conferencing, teaching practices, technology uses, career and technical education, teacher evaluations, learning through art and more.

Counts presented Monday at Hot Springs Junior Academy. She said she drew on her 14 years of teaching experience throughout Arkansas, Maryland, Massachusetts and Texas.

"I have a wide range of experiences, I have had a lot of successes and failures and I like to share those with other teachers," Counts said. "So, they can learn from my mistakes, but then take my successes and, hopefully, incorporate them in their classrooms as well."

The Sentinel-Record/Grace Brown PRESENTER: Mark McLeod speaks to Garland County teachers at Hot Springs Junior Academy middle school on Monday during the Garland County PD Mini-Conference. Nearly all of the presenters are on staff for one of the seven public school districts in the county.

Mark McLeod served as the keynote speaker for both locations. McLeod speaks to groups across the country about effective classroom management strategies.

Local on 10/17/2017

Print Headline: Seven county schools hold joint conference

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