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More big ideas

On recycling, education and more



Recycling at apartment complexes

By Glen Hooks


Several years ago, the city of Little Rock took a strong, positive step by providing curbside recycling for its citizens. The program makes it very easy for the average household to live in a more sustainable way, but there are two easy ways that the program could be improved.

First of all, our tiny recycling bins should be at least as big as our trashcans so as to encourage more recycling. For those of us who recycle consistently, the small bin is not nearly large enough for a week's worth — I find myself dealing with multiple small bins, or saving a portion of my recyclables for the following week's pickup.

Secondly, we need to make recycling available to the large number of our citizens who live in apartment complexes. This can easily be done by requiring landlords to place a recycling dumpster on properties that have more than, say, 10 units. On numerous occasions, friends of mine who live in apartments have dropped their recycling off at my house because they can't recycle at home. We should address this problem for the people who want to do the right thing and recycle.

Taking these two small steps will dramatically increase both the availability and the volume of recycling here in Central Arkansas, and make our city a greener place to live.

Glen Hooks is a long-time environmental advocate and the regional director (Eastern U.S.) for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign.



Teach throughout the year

By Dr. Ginny Blankenship


Here's a big idea: Why not throw out our antiquated school calendar and give kids the chance to learn throughout the entire year?

Although we're no longer living in a 19th century agrarian economy, our education system is — and we'll all pay the price unless we make some radical changes. The research is clear that the three months of learning lost every summer vacation (four if you count the slow-down that typically occurs after standardized tests are finished in April) has a huge impact on how much material students are able to recall the following year, and the effects are cumulative. Students who have access to camps, art classes and other enrichment programs during the summer months are more likely to stay on track. But over half of Arkansas's students are low-income and not always fortunate to have the same opportunities. For them, high-quality, extended learning opportunities are even more critical.

There are many ways to restructure the school calendar without losing vacations and breaks along the way. It will take some time to get everyone on board and work out the logistics. But this is one big idea whose time has come, and the Little Rock and Pulaski County school districts should help lead the way.

Think it can't be done? Look at KIPP Delta Public Schools in West Helena. With a student population that is almost entirely low-income and African-American, KIPP is open for business about 60 percent longer than traditional public schools in Arkansas. Students are actively engaged in learning during the summer, after school, and even on some weekends — and they have some of the state's highest test scores to show for it. KIPP achieves all of this with 20-30 percent less state funding than other public schools.

It can be done for all of our students, and it must.

Dr. Ginny Blankenship is the chief development officer at KIPP Delta Public Schools.



Provide for our school children

By Eddie Armstrong


As a child reared by the many, I know firsthand that what they say is true — it takes a village to raise a child. This “village” was my saving grace.

For this reason, I propose that our state's public school system and local community leaders adopt what I have deemed the “village approach” to tackle the educational issues of today's youth. I believe that a system of this nature will help ensure that each student in our public school system receives all the necessary tools they need to succeed in today's society.

I believe that each institution should be equipped with a top-to-bottom social service system that addresses any need a child may have that affects his or her education. If it's health care, provide it; if it's family counseling and support, provide it; if it's practical things like tutoring and behavioral needs, provide it; if it's college and trade preparation or financial management education, provide it; even if it's something as simple as a need for police protection, provide it!

An educational system that provides across-the-board support to all students would produce well-rounded citizens equipped to make their mark on our communities. Not only do these students need our help, so do our teachers. School teachers are the backbone of education. Nevertheless, their tireless and underpaid efforts are in need of additional support. Our teachers have plenty to deal with, and with the size of classes increasing, it's easy to see how actual instruction time is decreased.

Our teachers deserve assistance and our students need more. Let's provide it by integrating much-needed social services into our schools.

Eddie Armstrong is a partner and CEO of Armstrong Consulting. He is also the founder of the Eddie Armstrong Scholarship Foundation.



Ideas for education? I've got a few.

By Vicki Stroud Gonterman


As a 30-year veteran LRSD teacher at Gibbs International Magnet School, I have had a long and successful career to think about what education should look like. Below I have enumerated my B-I-G idea.

  • Longer school day. (What happened to 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.?)
  • Professional compensation for teachers. (Do doctors, lawyers, and other professionals have to take second jobs?)
  • Daily Social Sciences class K-12 to improve civic and economic responsibility, geographic and cultural literacy and historical perspective. (We do want employed, tax-paying, law-abiding citizens to live and vote in our republic, don't we?)
  • Language classes, exchange programs, study abroad opportunities for all students and faculty. (Are we ready for global markets and diplomacy?)
  • Two recesses every day for all elementary students, PE class every day for all K-12 students, and salad option daily for school lunch at all K-12 schools. (Do we want obesity to continue to plague our population?)
  • Creative option for all K-12 students (art, music, dance, drama, garden, lab, sports, or other) at least 60 minutes per week. (Don't we need to release our creative energy?)
  • Smaller schools, large classrooms for multiple and diverse activities for core and elective subjects, small class sizes (no more than 20 to one student-teacher ratio) and a huge playground/park for play and outdoor classrooms. (Don't we want successful schools?)
  • Hold parents and community leaders accountable. Have parents work in their child's school one day during each nine-week period at no loss of pay from their employers. Have community/business leaders work as guest teachers in schools to help teach/train their future employees. (Doesn't a healthy city economy depend upon a well-educated workforce?)

Vicki Stroud Gonterman, M. Ed., is an international studies specialist with Little Rock's Gibbs Magnet School of International Studies and Foreign Languages. She was named the 2009 Gilder Lehrman History Teacher of the Year for Arkansas.


Designate a tax for parks

By Brad Cazort


City parks and zoos are thought to add aesthetic beauty to neighborhoods and provide space for family recreation. However, this view of parks and zoos fails to recognize the transformative potential of these institutions to drive social change, lower crime, promote public health, spur economic development and improve the quality of life for citizens.

Little Rock has a strong need to adequately develop its public parks and the zoo and to provide committed funds to ensure the permanent maintenance and operation of these facilities. Cities like St. Louis and Denver have found innovative ways to support parks and zoos while also supporting other public services: with a dedicated parks and zoo tax.

Over $13 million is spent annually from the city's budget to operate parks and the zoo. In comparison, the city rightfully spends nearly eight times as much on public safety for fire and police. But even with this type of commitment to public safety, the city still finds itself challenged to keep-up with rising expenses and declining revenues.

A designated sales tax of only a half-cent would generate close to $22 million for the operation of parks and the zoo. These funds would be designated for only parks and the zoo providing a guarantee that its parks and zoos are properly developed and taken care of.

The city's other services, such as public safety and public works, also benefit from an additional $13 million or so that would be added back to the budget now that the budget isn't paying for parks and the zoo. An addition of $13 million to the city could mean more officers on the street, more firefighters, faster completion of road repairs or other services citizens expect.

The social benefit of parks and zoos is probably one of the most important benefits of all. Parks and zoos build social ties between individuals when people divided by race and class come together in a public space. By providing a space for the sharing of information and values, parks and zoos can be a catalyst for positive change.

Parks and the zoo make neighborhoods more secure and life more livable all while providing a place for people to take part in something enjoyable and educational.

Every great city has great public parks and a great zoo. It's time for Little Rock to take our parks and zoo from good to great. If the taxpayers of this city choose to support a designated tax for parks and the zoo they will see an immediate benefit as well as the continued development of a vibrant and strong community that empowers people, trains youth and contributes to further improving an already great quality of life here in Little Rock.


Brad Cazort is represents Ward 4 on the city board of directors.

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