Sanders adds former teacher Keener to state Board of Education

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has appointed Leigh Keener to the Arkansas Board of Education, the governor announced Friday.

Keener, a former teacher and childhood friend of Sanders, will fill an open position on the board formerly held by Fitz Hill, according to Alexa Henning, a spokeswoman for Sanders.

Keener has been appointed to a seven-year term and pledged Friday to use her appointment to prioritize early childhood education.

“I deeply believe that high-quality early learning is the most effective way to see lasting change in Arkansas’ education,” Keener said. “As a board we will drive policy to support the development of this critical workforce, support directors in their efforts to offer competitive salaries, and support families by helping to increase their access to high-quality affordable options in their area.”

Keener taught first grade at Episcopal Collegiate School in Little Rock and has a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and a master’s degree in elementary education from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. She also earned a certificate in early education leadership from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

She served on the early learning working group for the LEARNS Act, which helped steer the rulemaking process for the new law, and was a member of Sanders’ campaign “Educators for Sarah Coalition.”

During brief remarks Friday, Sanders spoke about her friendship with Keener, saying the two met while playing softball in Hillcrest, shortly after Sanders moved to Little Rock. Sanders and Keener also attended Little Rock Central High School, although Keener was a year ahead of Sanders, the Republican governor said.

Sanders said as a member of the state Board of Education, Keener will help work on rules for the LEARNS Act, an expansive law to overhaul education that Sanders made a top priority in the last session.

Among its provisions, the LEARNS Act creates a program for students to use state dollars to attend a private or home school, increases starting pay for teachers, creates new reading standards for third graders and outlines new guidelines for school security.

“Leigh isn’t here because she’s one of my best friends,” Sanders said during Friday’s announcement. “She’s here because she is one of our state’s best experts in education.”

Keener’s selection is the second appointment Sanders has made to the state Board of Education. Sanders appointed former state representative Ken Bragg to the board in July.

  Sanders adds former teacher Keener to state Board of Education  Leigh Keener (left) greets guests in attendance in the governor’s conference room at the state Capitol in Little Rock after the announcement on Friday of her appointment to the state Board of Education by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey)