Meghann Ray, program officer at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, is leading our Arkansas Education Policy Initiative. The ultimate goal of this new program is to create statewide education policy recommendations and actions that will improve Arkansas’s national standing in K-12 educational outcomes. In addition to being an economic boost, we believe these recommendations could lead to more funding for education
The first time I ever visited Petit Jean Mountain was for a lovely day adventure with my family and the dogs came along. From the very first moment I drove up to the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, I knew there was something special about this place, something I wanted to be a part of. Maybe even something I needed to be a part of. My little dog, Norman, found this rock that he was so proud to stand on. He stood tall and with a big smile.
Every once in a while, I reflect on that memory. It might be silly, but I related to that moment, and it kind of captures my feelings and affection toward the Institute. It feels like you can stand a little bit taller, breathe in some fresh air, and feel inspired when you are here — inspired that there is something positive we can do together.
Now, how does this apply to the Arkansas Education Policy Initiative that was formed in November 2021? The mission of the Institute is based on collaborative problem solving to create transformational change. We are the conveners. We are the home base of the Education Policy Initiative, maybe even the rock. However, regardless of the grounds we set, it’s really about the education partners and what we can all do together, collaboratively. We are here to guide the process, and we hope our participants can stand a little taller on our mountaintop campus, soaking up all that the Institute has to offer.
Since the Arkansas Education Policy Initiative started, nearly 100 education partners, stakeholders, and educators have been involved. I am inspired by everyone’s passion, expertise, and energy to work toward creating positive change for education in Arkansas. When we started, we were not naïve. We know education is, at times, a divisive and urgent issue. The very first question we asked our program partners was, “is it possible to work together collaboratively to create transformational change?”
Their answer: “We think so.”
We have been working together for seven months and have had a few hiccups (i.e., the Snowpocalypse of February 2022 that cut our time together short by a crucial five hours); however, I feel more confident than ever that the answer is yes. Yes, we can all work together to create transformational change.
Here is what I have personally learned through this experience that takes my maybe to a yes:
- Every time we have an Arkansas Education Policy Initiative meeting, I am inspired and revived by everyone’s passion, creative problem solving, and motivation. I learn something new. I feel confident Arkansas has the right people to make positive changes.
- It is not always about setting aside our differences. It is about working through our differences. If we are willing to listen to each other and engage in respectful dialogue, we might find out there is something we can learn from each other, even if it is something on which we disagree. If we listen respectfully, we can find common ground.
- Education is something that affects us all. Someone in a focus group wisely said, “Education is the one thing that affects everyone’s life at some point.” Whether you are a student, educator, or parent, this speaks to its importance.
- Trust the process. Even when it’s hard, we are here for our program participants at the Institute, and we are here to guide them through a process that can lead to positive action. It can be challenging and requires the commitment of one’s time and energy, but we are making progress through the process.
- We are not alone and we all have something to contribute. This initiative is an opportunity to pull together our resources and knowledge and build upon what is already happening.
Here are a few photos from our first in-person meeting in February 2022. It is incredible to see what people can accomplish together. I welcome you if you want to join us or have questions about the Arkansas Education Policy Initiative. I invite you to contact me, and I would love to share more about this program and how you can get involved.