February 21, 2007 Edition

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Cooperative offers many services

Harrell Austin

What is a cooperative? Webster's dictionary defines a "cooperative" as an enterprise or organization owned by and operated for the benefit of those using its services. For years, when I heard the word "cooperative," I thought of an electrical cooperative or a farm cooperative. In recent years, another cooperative has caught my attention ~ the education cooperative.

ACT 349 of 1985 authorized the Arkansas Board of Education to establish 15 Education Service Cooperatives. Walnut Ridge is fortunate to serve as the home of one of the cooperatives ~ the Northeast Arkansas Education Cooperative. In 1998, the cooperative purchased and renovated the old Jonathan Logan building (ladies clothing factory) at 211 West Hickory Street in Walnut Ridge. The building is now the headquarters for 76 cooperative employees.

The cooperative serves 14 school districts, 1,200 teachers and 17,000 students. Counties covered include Lawrence, Randolph, Sharp, Jackson, Greene and Clay. I am amazed at the economic impact the administrators, teachers and students from these counties have on Lawrence County. We have over 5,000 visitors each year to our Make-N-Take Center, where teachers use the resources of the center to make instructional and bulletin board materials. They can also purchase ready-made materials. Churches and community businesses also use the center. In addition, more than 5,000 educators attend the professional development trainings held at the cooperative each year.

Since I am from Paragould, I noticed that more than one third of the customers at a local restaurant one day were from Paragould. The Cooperative's Make-N-Take Center and professional development activities attract many out-of-county visitors on a regular basis. Our cooperative helps stimulate the local economy. The annual cooperative budget is approximately $4 million. So, the economic impact of the cooperative on the area is dramatic.

The original purpose of the cooperatives was to assist small schools in meeting state accreditation standards after the Quality Education Act was passed in 1983. Schools shared "hard to find" teachers such as math, science and foreign language and utilized the cooperative purchasing program. Cooperatives have expanded their purposes to assisting schools in helping improve student achievement, coordinating mandates and initiatives between the Arkansas Department of Education and member schools and providing services established as educational priorities by local districts, the State Board of Education and the General Assembly.

Some of the current services and specialists provided by the Northeast Education Cooperative are:

The Northeast Arkansas Education Cooperative is proud to be a hub of education activity in the Lawrence County community. Community members are welcome to visit the cooperative to see, first hand, the services we provide, and we encourage you to utilize these services yourself.

(Note: This series of columns will be written by different employees of the NEA Educational Cooperative to inform the public about the services provided by the co-op.)

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