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Zealous about providing young people with tools to enter the workforce, former Pea Ridge school superintendent Rick Neal has worked tirelessly finding ways to merge the needs of students and businesses.

Neal has been named Education to Employee Director by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas. He retired from Pea Ridge effective June 30.

Although the restrictions imposed by covid-19 social distancing have hampered schools, it hasn't stopped Neal from moving forward in his new position, he said.

"I think it (the new position) gives me a direct line to work with industry and the business sector to build a bridge between industry and education," Neal said. "I'm getting the opportunity to bring all the cross sectors together, to work on some initiatives the state chamber has in place."

A visionary, Neal was on the ground floor connecting business and schools when he applied for the first conversion charter school in the state -- Pea Ridge Manufacturing and Business Academy.

"The work force development piece I started nine years ago is basically why the interest is there with the state chamber," he said. "I was the driving force on some of the changes in work force education over the last nine or 10 years.

"I'm honored to be appointed to it," he said.

"Right now, I'm working on a couple of initiatives with the state chamber," he said referencing the talent pipeline management (Upscale Arkansas) that will "basically bring business sectors together to start outlining what specifics they need for students to be employable. We'll bring the cross sectors of the state together."

He said he plans to bring the education sector in to understand what those needs identified by businesses are and to connect job apprenticeship opportunities all across the state.

"I'm excited about linking all this together with colleges and businesses," Neal said. "I am working with some specific companies to create jobs for 17- and 18-year-old kids that they can start while in high school."

In his new position, Neal is responsible for engaging state business and industry partners and communicating their workforce needs to education leaders in Arkansas, while creating a seamless transition between high school, post-secondary education and the workforce.

He has worked in public education for the past 36 years. Prior to becoming Pea Ridge School District superintendent, he served as the high school principal for seven years at Pea Ridge. He was also middle school principal of Berryville Middle School in the Berryville School District. He began his career as a social studies teacher and basketball coach at Siloam Springs Junior High School.

Neal earned a bachelor's degree in physical education from the University of Arkansas, a master's degree and a specialist degree from the University of Arkansas.

Neal is passionate about preparing students to enter the global workforce through integration of technology, real-world STEM learning, and linking to today's college/career workforce.

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