Foundation Announces Plans for Bentonville Independent School

The Walton Family Foundation announced Thursday that the organiation plans to support the development of a new independent school in Bentonville.

The institution will serve as a new educational choice for families in the Northwest Arkansas region.

Dr. Clayton Marsh, currently the deputy dean of the college at Princeton University, will be the founding head of school effective January 2016.

“When we made the decision to build a new educational option for Northwest Arkansas from the ground up, we knew finding an innovative leader would be the first important step,” said Karen Minkel, Home Region program director at the Walton Family Foundation. “After meeting Clayton, we quickly realized we had found just that – someone who could build upon our vision and create an extraordinary educational opportunity.”

At Princeton, Marsh’s principal responsibilities include working with academic departments to develop new courses and programs; leading efforts to enhance the university’s liberal arts curriculum; and encouraging innovation in teaching.

“I’m honored to have the opportunity to create a new school on an open canvas in the heart of our country,” said Marsh. “And the conditions in Northwest Arkansas could not be better – a welcoming and dynamic community, a readiness for innovation in education, and, of course, the inspiring beauty of the Ozarks.”

Minkel outlined the school’s significance within the foundation’s strategy. 

“One of the key points in the Home Region’s 2020 strategic plan is to create a world-class system of Pre-K-12 schools,” Minkel said. “Our planning process helped us assess the current level of accessibility for parents and students to high-performing charter schools and traditional public schools. Our assessment also revealed that an independent school would add to the range of quality options available.”

A feasibility study conducted by the Walton Family Foundation revealed that 68 percent of Bentonville residents polled would support an independent school. A similar level of support exists across the region’s other school districts.

Marsh has extensive experience in the independent school sector. For eight years, he was a faculty member of The Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, N.J., one of the country’s finest independent schools. 

Dr. Valerie Smith, president of Swarthmore College and former dean of the college at Princeton University, expressed confidence in Marsh’s ability to build a high-achieving academic institution from the ground up.

“Clayton is an extraordinarily gifted, insightful and inspiring colleague, teacher and administrator,” Smith said.  “He will be the perfect fit for the top leadership role at an academically driven school. With his vast range of experience and zest for learning, he is uniquely qualified to shape the destiny of this institution.”

As the founding head of school, Marsh will create an institution that is committed to academic excellence, equality of educational opportunity and civic engagement.  

“I am particularly excited to begin building an exceptional team of teachers who have mastered the art of cultivating student potential,” said Marsh.  

The school will also offer a challenging curriculum, small classes, a diverse student body and distinctive architecture.

As head of school, Marsh will lead all aspects of the independent school’s development, including curriculum and infrastructure.  The school is initially expected to serve students in middle school and high school.  In the spring 2016, Marsh will release a timeline for the opening of the school and the specific grades it will offer.