Top-Ranked Bentonville Schools Lead the Way in Arkansas, Publication Says

Four large Northwest Arkansas school districts are among the Top 25 in the state, according to a new ranking shared by Niche.com.

The top-ranked Bentonville School District led the way in Arkansas, sitting atop the 2020 Best School Districts rankings. The rankings are based on data from the U.S. Department of Education, paired with reviews from students and parents, as well as test scores and graduation rates.  

The Fayetteville School District earned the No. 3 spot, and Springdale was 19th statewide. The Rogers School District came in at No. 22.

All four Northwest Arkansas districts received an “A” rating, while Bentonville was given the highest mark with an “A+.”

"We often say this is where excellence lives and we mean that,” Bentonville Schools Superintendent Debbie Jones said. “Our teachers enjoy the freedom to introduce the latest innovative thoughts into their lesson plans so students can learn in an environment which surpasses the traditional classroom. That academic experience, combined with the endless opportunity, is something few others can match. We're proud of the world-class education we offer." 

Nelson Peacock, the Northwest Arkansas Council’s president and CEO, said the rankings represent another reason the region is a magnet for top talent. 

“Northwest Arkansas ranks as a Top 5 Best Place to Live in the nation because of the great economy and high quality of life,” Peacock said. “The plentiful, high quality education options available here contribute to both and is a key driver in attracting and retaining a quality workforce. Bentonville – and other regional schools – presence on the Niche list is further confirmation of the quality of our local schools.”

Small Northwest Arkansas schools made the Top 25, too. The Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy family of schools ranked fourth overall. Prairie Grove was No. 13, and the Farmington schools were No. 24 on the list.

According to Niche.com, the rankings are determined by weighing several categories to form an overall ranking. The greatest weight is assigned to academic performance, which is based on state assessment proficiency, standardized test scores and surveys filled out by students and parents regarding academics. 

Other factors include teacher performance, culture and diversity, and parent/student surveys about the overall experience.

Proposal Would Expand Physician Residencies, Senator Says

Arkansas leaders and health care experts today addressed the shortage of physician residency positions in the state and how legislation proposed by U.S. Sen. John Boozman can help.

The Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act would provide new opportunities for medical school graduates to complete residency training, something they must do before practicing medicine. A 1997 cap on Medicare support for Graduate Medical Education (GME) has stymied increases in residency training, creating a blockage in the physician workforce pipeline.

Dr. Mikaila Calcagni, a resident physician in Northwest Arkansas, talked today during a roundtable discussion about her desire to stay in the region to practice medicine.

Dr. Mikaila Calcagni, a resident physician in Northwest Arkansas, talked today during a roundtable discussion about her desire to stay in the region to practice medicine.

The GME Summit, co-sponsored by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and Northwest Arkansas Council and held in Springdale, enabled policy makers and health care, education, community and business stakeholders to start a statewide dialogue focused on solutions to the residency shortage in Arkansas.

“The number of available physicians per population in the Natural State is among the lowest in the nation and providers of all specialties are facing a serious shortfall, especially in Arkansas’s rural communities,” Boozman said. “This isn’t just a problem we are facing in Arkansas. There is a physician shortage in hospitals across the nation, and every state is struggling to fill the void. The bill Senator Bob Menendez and I introduced will lift the antiquated cap on Medicare-supported doctor training slots, creating 15,000 residency-training slots across the country over a five-year period. It is a small step, but one that will go a long way to addressing this dire need in Arkansas and at the national level.”

UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson said a nationwide physician shortage remains significant.

“The latest data indicates a shortfall of up to 122,000 physicians by 2032, including significant shortages in both primary care and specialty categories,” Patterson said. “If action is not taken, Arkansas will soon have more medical school graduates than residency positions, forcing graduates to pursue residency training outside of the state.”

He said that adding residency positions would improve the chances for physicians to stay in Arkansas after completing residency because data shows physicians are more likely to practice within 50 miles of their final residency training location.

The Northwest Arkansas Council worked with UAMS, the University of Arkansas, Northwest Arkansas medical systems and a medical research firm throughout 2018 to fully understand the region’s health care needs. The research showed more physician residency positions was among the top needs. The Council made the full report available on its website when it was made public in January 2019.

“Northwest Arkansas loses nearly $1 billion each year in economic impact due to the outmigration of health care services,” said Nelson Peacock, president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council. “To reverse that trend, regional health care leaders developed a comprehensive plan to increase Graduate Medical Education, expand interdisciplinary research and establish a four-year medical school. In fast-growing regions such as Northwest Arkansas, federal funding restrictions prevent the health care sector from keeping pace with demand. 

“Regional leaders are working collaboratively to address these challenges, and changes to federal policy that expand GME, such as those proposed by Senator Boozman, are critical. Increasing GME would allow us to train more doctors here and give us a better chance of retaining them in the long term.”

Dr. Christopher Westfall, dean of the UAMS College of Medicine, told attendees it will take multiple strategies to address the shortage. 

Len Marquez, senior director of governmental relations for the Association of American Medical Colleges, gave an overview of the nation’s GME policy and how it impacts the number of doctors who can practice medicine in the U.S. Marquez emphasized the importance of federal funding support, which would increase if Boozman’s bill gains legislative approval.

Those who joined today’s roundtable discussion included  Arkansas State Sen. Missy Irvin; Dr. Drake Rippelmeyer, a physician at the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks and faculty member in the Internal Medicine Residency Program, UAMS Northwest Regional Campus; Marquez; Pearl McElfish, vice chancellor for the UAMS Northwest Regional Campus; Lashannon Spencer, CEO of Community Health Centers of Arkansas; Dr. Mikaila Calcagni, a resident physician in Northwest Arkansas; and Peacock.

Pictured at the top: Len Marquez and Pearl McElfish listen as Lashannon Spencer, the CEO of Community Health Centers of Arkansas, talks about Dr. Mikaila Calcagni, a Bentonville High School, University of Arkansas and UAMS graduate and resident physician who wants to stay in Northwest Arkansas throughout her career.

Tyson Foods Opens Automation Center in Springdale's Downtown

The Tyson Manufacturing Automation Center officially opened in downtown Springdale today as company officials introduced the facility to attendees from across Northwest Arkansas. 

Tyson Foods, which has made a series of investments into downtown Springdale over the past few years, created the new, state-of-the-art facility to help the company develop more automation and robotics for its food production plants.

The center provides space for the development of manufacturing solutions and collaboration with the company’s information technology team and equipment suppliers. It also serves as a location for team member training on new technology.

The investment is part of the company’s focus on continuous improvement. The development of new technology and processes will improve efficiency and workplace safety.

“Innovation has been a fundamental part of our success for almost 85 years,” said Noel White, Tyson Foods president and CEO. “This facility represents our commitment to creating the next generation of manufacturing solutions through advanced automation, robotics and machine learning.”

The two-story, 26,000-square-foot facility features four main areas: A machine vision technology lab, a lab that simulates a food production environment, training classrooms and space for team members to train in automation and robotics technology.

The center is in a building that was previously used to service vehicles for the company’s poultry business. Reclaimed wood from the company’s original headquarters was used in the renovated building.

The company has invested more than $215 million in automation and robotics in the last five years.

“The key to TMAC’s success will be the collaboration of world-class talent bringing expertise from all aspects of processing,” said Doug Foreman, director of engineering at Tyson Foods. “Their skills and the resources within this facility will allow us to create solutions that will make a difference in the lives of our team members and create value for our business.”

Foreman will manage the day-to-day operations of TMAC with assistance from Marty Linn, who spent 34 years at General Motors, 18 of those as the principal engineer of robotics and the manager of advanced automation.

“The creation of the Tyson Manufacturing Automation Center is a key enabler for the company to collaborate and bridge the suppliers in the automation industry with their production facilities,” said Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation. “Tyson Foods’ drive to implement robotic and machine vision automation technologies will help them be more competitive on a global scale, provide a safer environment for their team members, and more efficiently provide safe, quality food to people around the world.”

John Randal Tyson, director, Office of the CEO, Tyson Foods, stands with members of Root Negative One, a Don Tyson School of Innovation team that’s headed to Dubai to participate as Team USA in an international robotics contest. Tyson Foods at its automation center opening gave $15,000 to the team for travel expenses.

John Randal Tyson, director, Office of the CEO, Tyson Foods, stands with members of Root Negative One, a Don Tyson School of Innovation team that’s headed to Dubai to participate as Team USA in an international robotics contest. Tyson Foods at its automation center opening gave $15,000 to the team for travel expenses.

In addition, the company will engage with local schools participating in robotics competitions to further drive awareness and the importance of educational opportunities in areas of science, technology, engineering and math.

TMAC’s first collaboration is with Springdale’s Don Tyson School of Innovation, a technology-rich STEM school. It embraces flexible and blended learning, allowing for a fast-paced and project-based learning environment that promotes student success.

The Don Tyson School of Innovation’s robotics team will travel to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Oct. 24-27 to compete in the FIRST Global Challenge. The annual, international robotics Olympics-style event brings together youth from around the world to share in their passion for STEM.

The company announced a $15,000 gift to help offset travel costs and ensure the entire team can participate in the competition.

TMAC marks the third major development project Tyson Foods has completed in downtown Springdale since 2015.

In 2016, the company opened a 28,000-square-foot building on Emma Avenue that’s named the Tyson Foods JTL Building. The facility houses the Tyson Company Store and approximately 75 team members.

In 2017, the company opened its 56,000-square-foot building at 319 E. Emma Ave. Named Tyson Emma, the building houses approximately 300 information technology team members.

The company has made other commitments to downtown Springdale, too. In 2015, the company gave $1 million to the Downtown Springdale Alliance to support the organization’s effort to develop infrastructure and greenspace.  

Tyson Foods employs more than 6,000 people in Springdale and more than 23,000 people in Arkansas, and the company has contracts with more than 1,800 farmers in the state, who grow chickens for its operations. The company also purchases cattle, pigs, grain, diesel and other utilities in Arkansas and estimates its annual economic impact at nearly $2 billion statewide.