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New AGFC education chief knows the territory


Almost a year ago when Arkansas Wildlife staff first met Mary Beth Hatch she was wearing waders and leading a school principal, a teacher and a group of North Little Rock Academy students through the current of Fourche Creek at Little Rock’s Hindman Park. As coordinator of school innovation in the North Little Rock School District, she had partnered with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Education Division to bring outdoors teaching skills to teachers and, in turn, introduce students to nature.
Now, Hatch is on the other side, recently taking over as AGFC chief of education.
“I have been partnering and working with (the AGFC) on projects for years, even when I was in the classroom as a classroom teacher,” Hatch said. “As a teacher we had a stream team and I was working with (AGFC Stream Habitat Coordinator) Sean Saunders to get that going.
“But I have always had a desire to continue working with the Game and Fish through education. Lots of great things have happened there, and then when this position came open, it kind of really just seemed like a combination of all the things I love, all the things I enjoy doing professionally and personally, and kind of a dream job role, if you will. I’m excited to have the opportunity.”
Hatch had a Zoom interview with Spencer Griffith, AGFC deputy director, whose purview includes the Education Division, and then she met in person with Griffith and AGFC Director Austin Booth. Many in the Education Division already knew her well and what she had accomplished in a short time in North Little Rock.
“In selecting Mary Beth we saw a strong leader who is nationally recognized for her program development and has a diverse background in the education field,” Griffith said. “As we look to execute ‘The Natural State Tomorrow,’ Mary Beth’s leadership will continue to guide us as we hone our education efforts into connecting Arkansans to conservation and our natural resources.”
In North Little Rock, Hatch oversaw career and technical education programming, as well as federal funding to support programming throughout the schools, including post-secondary institutions. She developed industry and community partnerships for the district.
Hatch has spent 18 years in public education, 13 of them as a classroom teacher. She also was director of workforce initiatives at North Arkansas College in Harrison. During time in Harrison, she was executive director of the Harrison Public School Foundation alongside Ken Reeves, a former AGFC commissioner.
The native of Bergman moved to Little Rock to join the Department of Education overseeing K-12 STEM education before spending the last two years with the NLRSD.
“I’ve had a variety of leadership roles but a very diverse range of experience in the education sector, for sure,” she said.
Greg Pilewski, NLRSD superintendent, empowered her to devise a career and technical curriculum that included outdoors education opportunities for students, many who never get out of their urban setting. JJ Gladden, an AGFC assistant chief of education, already knew of Hatch and worked with her to set up a professional development day for teachers with AGFC educators that preceded implementation of the classroom curriculum, the first of its kind in an Arkansas urban school setting.
The work culminated in February when the NLRSD was honored at the Commission meeting in Little Rock with the Education Project of the Year award.
Hatch says her familiarity with the AGFC education staff will be a big help as she sets her own goals for the division.
“First and foremost, the team that is already here is incredible,” she said in early April during her first week on the job. “I just continue to see what they are doing and working so hard every day for the state — with their own staff that they work with, but then the programs that they have developed and that they are so passionate about. It’s come through very clearly. I’m very excited to continue working with them and learning from them because, wow, do they have a wealth of knowledge in their areas of expertise, that’s for sure!”