Growing Opportunities in Gainesville

Savannah WaszczukAccess Launch, District Profiles

While the Gainesville School District has less than 1,000 students K-12, it works with Launch to provide its high school students an expanded selection of course offerings.

When Gainesville High students returned to school in August 2019, they had a brand new shared learning space to explore. “Building a space for our students to work on their virtual courses was a goal of ours from the very beginning,” says Gainesville High School Principal Justin Gilmore. While it took a grant and other donated funding to transform the dream into a reality, a plan for it had been the works since fall 2018. “After our first meeting, we knew that Launch was the direction we wanted to go with our virtual learning,” Mr. Gilmore says. “We just needed to create a space for those students to learn.”

The Journey to Joining Launch

Sometimes school districts partner with Launch to fulfill an immediate need for a particular student’s virtual learning. Other times, districts reach out before a need arises in an effort to provide more opportunities for students. The Gainesville School District fell into the latter category.

The district has 655 students K-12, and 186 of those students attend Gainesville High School. “We’re small, but we have a lot of high-caliber students,” Gilmore says. “Last year we graduated 38 seniors, and four of them scored a 30 or higher on their ACT. We have students who are going on to Pepperdine and Johns Hopkins—we want to prepare them. We want to be able to offer our students all of the college prep courses we can.”

Mr. Gilmore has been working on expanding opportunities for GHS students since he began working at the rural high school in 2017. “Early on, we had plans for changing up our schedule,” Gilmore says. “When students have one class that’s offered one hour only, it’s tough. Especially in a small school. A goal of ours was to offer kids a bit more flexibility.”

While the district already had working relationships with area universities in place and offered a few Advanced Placement (AP) courses to students before partnering with Launch, they knew they could improve. And that’s where the Launch partnership came in. But there was one issue—where would all of these students sit?

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A Well-Constructed Plan

What was once an old math classroom is now a well-designed, modern virtual learning lab and shared library space. “We had a goal of getting our math teacher out in the main hall with the other teachers,” Mr. Gilmore says. “She was a loner back here. And we had a huge library, but when we would visit other schools, we’d get jealous. We wanted to fix our library up and make it nicer for our students.”

While Mr. GIlmore had drafts and dreams of what the space could look like, he needed to secure funding to make it all happen. “We wrote an application for a Coover Grant and were awarded $20,000,” Mr. Gilmore says. “Then, we had funding from the McGinnis Family Funds with the Ozark County Community Foundation of the Ozarks. That provided us with $10,000 more. So we had $30,000 to work with.”

The district used the funds to transform the outdated classroom and tired library into a bright and open space complete with new flooring, fresh paint and all new furniture. “Everything in here is new,” Mr. GIlmore says. “This building was built in 1963, so it was in need of an upgrade. We totally transformed how it looks here.”

“When students have one class that’s offered one hour only, it’s tough. Especially in a small school. A goal of ours was to offer kids a bit more flexibility.”

—Justin Gilmore, High School Principal

Launch in Action

Students at GHS are utilizing Launch in a variety of ways. There are students who are recovering credits with Launch’s credit recovery program, and there are college-bound kids who are taking advantage of Launch’s multiple world language offerings. Many others enroll in ACT Prep. “I improved my ACT score by four points,” says Aubrey Turingan, a senior who hopes to study pre-med at Pepperdine University after she graduates this May. “The course has pre-tests that are set up just like the actual tests on the ACT. I would definitely recommend that students take this class if they are looking to improve their scores.”

Jaxon Britt, a fellow GHS senior who has plans to study at the University of Arkansas next fall, also increased his ACT score by four points. “Those practice tests are the biggest help when you’re studying for the ACT,” Jackson says. “They definitely helped me.”

High School Counselor Miranda Donley says many of the school’s juniors and seniors have benefited from Launch’s ACT Prep course. “I would say the ACT course is one of our biggest successes with Launch so far,” she says. “Between the ACT course and the use of credit recovery in our alternative school, we’re very happy with this partnership.” Mr. Gilmore agrees. “I’m glad that we are continuing to expand our offerings with Launch,” he says. “I want our students to have the opportunity to take things that they want or need to take that—unfortunately—a smaller, rural district isn’t able to offer.”    

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Gainesville at a Glance

K-12 Enrollment: 655
High School Population: 186
MASA District: Southwest
School Colors: Red and White
Mascot: Bulldogs
Fun Fact: Every year, GHS alumni and residents alike gather for the town’s annual Hootin an Hollarin Festival. The festival is celebrating its 60th year!

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