The Fort Smith School District is preparing to open the Peak Innovation Center in August next year

Fort Smith, Ark. – Finally, some good news. The FSSD will open the Peak Innovation Center in August next year. According to the report, the 1st phase of the center will focus on programs in advanced manufacturing, information technology and health sciences. There also will be some district-specific programming, such as visual arts for elementary school students.

The director of career education and district innovation for the school district, Gary Udouj, said:

“Wanted to provide a school for the region where students could receive industry-recognized credentials in concurrent credit classes, as well as have “innovative approaches to education. This includes work-based learning, such as internships and apprenticeships, and working with business and industry to fill a skills gap identified by the district’s Citizens Committee. We’ve got an aging workforce, we have millennials migrating elsewhere, and we’ve got basically an average age of 50 to 55 in some of these industries, and we really need to be preparing our students for those jobs.”

The programs will include computer integrated machining, electronics technology, automation/robotics, network engineering technology, unmanned aerial systems, practical nursing and emergency medical responder, according to Udouj.

Udouj said the Peak Innovation Center will act as an extension of the Western Arkansas Technical Center program at UAFS. The latter will provide the instructors and curriculum for each area.

Incoming school Superintendent Terry Morawski echoed Udouj on the center’s programs.

“So, that center will continue to exist. It’ll just offer … complementary or different programming than Peak,” Morawski said. “For example, there’s an auto shop, there’s a welding program at [Western Arkansas Technical], but that wouldn’t be duplicated at Peak, so students would still attend those programs at [Western Arkansas Technical] on the UAFS campus.”

Formed in 1998, the Western Arkansas Technical Center provides high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to earn college credit while still in high school, according to the UAFS website. Ken Warden, dean of the College of Applied Science and Technology at UAFS, said the center serves all of the high schools in the Guy Fenter Education Service Cooperative, which encompasses 22 school districts in Sebastian, Crawford, Franklin, Johnson, Logan and Scott counties.

The Western Arkansas Technical Center offers technical training in several areas, Warden said. The Fort Smith district provides about one-third of the students at the center.

“Peak for us is an opportunity to leverage the investment of Fort Smith public schools to the benefit of programming for high school and adult students because we do plan to hold courses there for adult students when the facilities aren’t being utilized by high school students, so that’s a big deal,” Warden said.

Warden said he believes that, with the size of the Fort Smith Metropolitan Statistical Area, it takes all parties involved leveraging the resources they each have to make this effort successful.

“It would be difficult for UAFS to offer this expanse and these robust opportunities without Fort Smith, and it would be difficult for Fort Smith public schools to do this without the university,” Warden said. “But through the collective, through our industry partners, the community, the Fort Smith public schools investment, UA Fort Smith programming and investment, and all of the other school districts that are in the Guy Fenter co-op … it’s really a western Arkansas thing.”

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