Fort Smith Schools Honors Longtime Board Members Prior to Retirement

FORT SMITH — Two school board members are about to close the book on nearly three decades of combined service.

Susan McFerran, 70, and Yvonne Keaton-Martin, 90, are retiring from the school board after serving 10 and 19 years, respectively. They were recognized for their contributions to the school district at the May 23 council meeting.

Zena Featherston Marshall, executive director of communications and community partnerships for the school district, said women guided the district through the first successful mileage election in more than 30 years and guided it through “some of the most difficult times in recent history”.

“As educators, they have always been focused on the students, but even after retiring from the classroom and strengthening their leadership, Ms. McFerran and Ms. Keaton-Martin have continued to provide for all young people in our community,” Marshall said.

Residents of Fort Smith and Barling approved a 5.558 mill tax increase in May 2018. The increase, which increased the district’s property tax rate from 36.5 to 42.058 mill, will generate approximately $121 million dollars over time. It was the first of its kind in Fort Smith since 1987 and has funded a number of projects included in the district’s Vision 2023 capital improvement program, such as the Peak Innovation Center which opened in March.

The honor McFerran and Keaton-Martin received for their service came just before the May 24 election to decide who would represent new school district areas approved by the board as part of a district rezoning process. The 2020 census increased the district from four single-member areas and three board positions to five single-member areas and two at-large positions.

McFerran, who represents Zone 2 in the school district and is president of the board, said she had worked as a teacher for 31 years, including a few years with the school district. McFerran has a background in preschool and elementary education.

McFerran said she was first appointed to the board in 2012 to fill the remainder of someone else’s term. She then understood the importance of the Board of Directors and believed that she could make a difference in her new position.

“I personally didn’t realize how serious the School Board was,” McFerran said. “I wasn’t very familiar with that. I had friends who had been on the school board and knew they had done a great job, but I hadn’t realized the magnitude of the decisions we had to make. And once I was on the board, I loved being on it and getting to know everyone associated with our schools. »

McFerran said passing a mile was a top priority for her during her time on the board, which she described as a pleasure and an honor.

McFerran said her decision to retire was because she felt she had done the best and best she could and that it was time for a change on the board. However, she intends to research areas in which to volunteer for the district.

Keaton-Martin, who represents Zone 4 in the district, said she started as a teacher in Fort Coffee, Okla., in 1954. She went on to work in education in Annapolis, Md., and Los Angeles and Sacramento, California, before coming to the Fort Smith School District. She was principal of Howard Elementary School from 1987 to 2000.

Keaton-Martin has served on the board since 2003. She said she was encouraged to run for her position by the person who held it before, even though she had no goal in mind when she was elected nor did she really know what that would entail. . However, the training provided by the state helped her better understand what her role would be: to help district administrators as much as possible and to follow state rules.

Keaton-Martin said she continued to run for the board because she felt it was her duty, living in a community in need of support.

“I also enjoy connecting with people and helping parents make decisions about their children and encouraging them to be more involved in schools,” Keaton-Martin said.

Keaton-Martin also served as Chairman of the Board from 2005-06 and 2011-12. She said she decided to step down from the board because she had served “long enough.”

McFerran and Keaton-Martin will remain in office until their newly elected replacements are sworn in, Marshall said. This will take place before the June 20 board meeting.

Yvonne Keaton-Martin, left, and Susan McFerran, right, retired members of the Fort Smith School Board, stand side by side with the awards they received in honor of their service after the school board meeting of Fort Smith on Monday. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Saccente)

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