Sports In School

April 20, 2017

In an attempt to boost athletic competitiveness with peer districts, the Rogers School Board in Northwest Arkansas has expanded its initiative to incorporate sports into the school day, as reported by the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette. After deciding last year to make eighth grade football, basketball, and volleyball part of the regular school day schedule, the board has now voted to add cross-country, track, cheer, and dance to this list. The decision will take effect at the start of the 2017-2018 school year.

While the move is aimed at improving eighth grade athletics, there are a number of challenges to making it work. With the last period of the day now being dedicated to these sports, 16 teachers will need to have their last period cleared if they are to continue coaching. Five of those teachers work in schools other than the middle school where they coach, making it difficult to find replacements for them when they’re coaching.

“We'll work with the middle school principals to see what changes have to be made and who will have to pick up different classes,” said Superintendent Marlin Berry. “I think we're going to have to have some discussion with a couple of those coaches who are in other buildings to confirm and see what that impact is.”

Rogers' middle schools are structured so that the same groups of teachers handle the same groups of students. This is great for the students and helps a big school feel smaller, but presents further challenges for teachers who also coach. In total, the estimated cost of covering the classes those teachers otherwise would teach is $170,000 for next school year. Board members and administrators will continue to discuss the plan and try to figure out how to make it work for everyone.

Yet, after being successfully implemented this school year, people continue to express support for the initiative. Board members say they are addressing widespread concerns among parents that the district isn’t keeping up with other schools in athletics. Coaches have also expressed their support.

“We're lifting three times a week,” said Kirksey Middle School Head Football Coach Anderson said. “Our kids are stronger now than they've ever been.”

In 2008, the district decided to eliminate all junior high schools and put all sixth- through eighth-graders in middle schools. This school year is the first that athletics has been part of the school day for eighth graders, and administrators have also suggested moving eligible seventh-graders into the last-period coaching time, which could allow for full-squad participation and eliminate the need for additional personnel costs. Yet, under that plan seventh-graders would be forced to give up an elective such as band or orchestra in order to play their sport of choice.

That is why Curtis Clements, board vice president, argued in favor of limiting the athletics move to the eighth grade. Clements hopes to improve athletics but wants to continue providing students with as many opportunities as possible.

“The thing I like about our middle schools is it allows our students to try different things,” Clements said.

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