OPINION | WOODY BASSETT: Organizations that promote public educations are foundations of excellence

Organizations back public schools, hail its advocates

Of paramount importance to any community is a strong public school system. Valuing public education and making it a priority is one of the chief ways a community defines itself. Good schools and good teachers enable young students to learn and grow, giving them the best chance to get the kind of quality education that will make a lifelong difference for them.

One proven way a school district can provide additional opportunities for its students and teachers, plus address other challenges facing that district, is to have a broad-based community education foundation that can do the work necessary to bring more resources to the district.

If your community has a public education foundation, then you live in a place highly committed to making its public school system the best it can be.

Fayetteville is one of those places. Through the leadership and foresight of Jack Butt, then a member of the Fayetteville School Board, as well as that of other engaged and dedicated community and school district leaders, the Fayetteville Public Education Foundation was established in 1992, the first one in Arkansas.

In the years since its creation, FPEF has raised and delivered significant sums to support the Fayetteville public schools and made a meaningful difference for students and teachers, consistently fulfilling the foundation's mission to provide students with "extraordinary educational opportunities by fostering strategic partnerships and investing in innovative programs championed by our educators."

Public education foundations have become instrumental sources of private financial support for public schools. That's certainly the case in Northwest Arkansas where each of the four largest school districts -- Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville -- now has its own thriving public education foundation. Recently, these four foundations have worked toward forming a new cooperative with the goal of working collaboratively to maximize resources to support regional public education needs and to address challenges all four school districts have in common.

It's customary for education foundations to host an annual event honoring selected alumni, educators and others for their contributions to the school district and the community. The past two years Fayetteville's event wasn't held due to the pandemic. But on the evening of March 31 the Fayetteville Public Education Foundation will make up for lost time by staging the 25th Annual Hall of Honor Ceremony at the Fayetteville Public Library, during which six accomplished individuals will be recognized and inducted into the Fayetteville Schools Hall of Honor.

The 2020 inductees are: Judge Bill Storey, Larry Shackelford and Rocky Tsai. The 2021 inductees are: Dr. Martha (Marti) Sharkey, John Newman and Barbara Prichard. Here are a few words about each of them:

Following a successful career as a practicing lawyer, Judge Bill Storey went on to serve the public with distinction for many years as a highly respected Washington County circuit judge and later as a district judge for Washington County. Throughout his career, Storey has been a leader in the Northwest Arkansas legal community and a pillar in the judiciary.

A certified public accountant and former CEO of Medical Associates of Northwest Arkansas, Larry Shackelford was named president and CEO of the Washington Regional Medical System and Medical Center in 2017. Shackelford's strong leadership at Washington Regional and his efforts to advance health care in this area have been exemplary, especially the past two years during the pandemic.

A 1993 graduate of Fayetteville High School, Rocky Tsai is an outstanding attorney and a partner at Ropes & Gray LLP in San Francisco where he serves on the law firm's pro bono, diversity and inclusion committees. Tsai has been widely recognized for his dedication to public service.

After studies and training at Rice, Vanderbilt, Emory University and Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Marti Sharkey returned to her hometown of Fayetteville to practice medicine as a pediatrician. During the lengthy pandemic, Dr. Sharkey assumed public health responsibilities as the city of Fayetteville's health officer, providing exceptional leadership, reliable information and clear health care guidance to city residents.

A passionate advocate for people with developmental disabilities, John Newman serves as executive director of Life Styles, a nonprofit organization with a mission to provide services and opportunities for those in need. Newman's superb leadership at Life Styles has made a profound difference for people served by the program, helping them reach their full potential as contributing members of the community.

During her brilliant 34-year teaching career with the Fayetteville Public Schools, Barbara Prichard developed and guided the school district's widely acclaimed Gifted and Talented Program and the Advanced Placement Program. The Gifted and Talented Program was recognized a record six times as the most outstanding of its kind in Arkansas, serving as a model for other school districts across the state.

Supporting a public education foundation can truly make a meaningful difference for your community's public school system.

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