ForwARd Arkansas, a public/private partnership aimed at improving public education in the state, announced this morning that it’s hired Susan Harriman as executive director. She’ll start May 1.

ForwARd is a collaboration between the Walton Family Foundation, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and the Arkansas Department of Education. Last fall, the group released a plan for “transforming” public schools that focused on relatively noncontroversial education policy issues (more pre-K, expanded breakfast programs, better workforce development) but largely avoided the major flash points of the day (charter schools, choice, high stakes testing and standards, and so on). This was especially notable given that the Walton Family Foundation has been among the nation’s most aggressive advocates for charters and choice, and continues to push for the expansion of such “reform” measures in Arkansas and elsewhere.


Harriman has worked at the Education Department since 2010 as Policy and Special Projects Director. A Texas native, she’s also held positions at the National Center for Education Achievement at UT-Austin, the U.S. Department of Education (where she helped implement the initial role out of No Child Left Behind in the early 2000s) and the Texas Public Education Reform Foundation.

Among the projects that Harriman worked on at ADE were the No Kid Hungry campaign and the expansion of broadband internet to K-12 schools, an area in which Arkansas lags much of the country. Although Harriman’s position within the department usually wasn’t a particularly high profile one, she played a notable role in an unusual business-contra-business political fight that pitted the state’s big telecoms (such as AT&T, Cox and Windstream) against a group called FASTERArkansas that included executives of Acxiom and Arvest Bank and which was backed by the Walton Family Foundation.


Also notable: Harriman is married to Morril Harriman, former Gov. Mike Beebe’s chief of staff.

Here’s the release from ForwARd:


ForwARd Arkansas Hires Executive Director

Statewide Partnership to Improve Public Education Brings on New Leadership

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Apr. 5, 2016) – Susan Bonesteel Harriman was named Executive Director of ForwARd Arkansas (ForwARd) because of her passion for transforming public education. She will lead the collective, statewide action necessary to realize the vision of ForwARd that every Arkansan will graduate high school prepared for college and the workplace.

“I’m truly honored to be joining a movement that I know will close our state’s achievement gap and make Arkansas a national leader for public education within a generation,” said Harriman.

“Susan will provide ForwARd with the leadership our students deserve, and I know she will effectively drive this movement to prepare Arkansans to succeed after they leave school and prosper,” said ForwARd Implementation Working Group Chair Dr. David Rainey. “We’re eager to implement ForwARd’s recommendations with her leading the way.”

ForwARd is a partnership of local education, business, government and civil society leaders committed to improving public education in the state. After conducting in-depth analysis of Arkansas’s education system and gathering input from nearly 8,500 Arkansans, ForwARd set a strategic goal to make Arkansas a leading state in education. ForwARd is determined to implement recommendations set forth in the report A New Vision for Arkansas Education to meet this goal and dramatically improve student achievement.

Starting in 2010, Harriman served as the Policy and Special Projects Director at the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE). There she managed the No Kid Hungry campaign, New Tech Network High Schools, UTeach teacher preparation program and other initiatives. Prior to working at the ADE, she served as the Director of State Services at the National Center for Education Achievement, Secretary’s Regional Representative at the U.S. Department of Education and Founding Executive Director at the Texas Public Education Reform Foundation.

“Susan’s commitment to innovation and improvement in education has been invaluable at the Department of Education,” said Arkansas Commissioner of Education Johnny Key. “I am glad that she is taking on this new role to continue advancing education in Arkansas to where it should be.”

“As we improve education outcomes here, race, gender, geography and socioeconomic conditions cannot continue to be barriers to success,” said Arkansas Board of Education Chair Toyce Newton. “Susan will ensure that this movement to improve education outcomes for students does not continue to leave behind whole groups of Arkansans.”