9 groups file to run charter schools in Arkansas

Posted: March 8, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

A map showing proposed charter schools

A map showing proposed charter schools

Nine organizations have notified the Arkansas Department of Education of their plans to apply to establish open-enrollment charter schools in 2019-20 in locations that include Pulaski and Jefferson counties.

In addition to plans for three schools in Little Rock/North Little Rock and two in the Pine Bluff area, other locations proposed for new charter school campuses are Bentonville, Searcy and Monticello, as well as the Hartford/Midland area.

If all nine organizations follow through with the submission of full applications by the April 26 deadline, the state Charter Authorizing Panel and ultimately the state Board of Education can approve as many as five for opening in the 2019-20 school year, according to a state law that sets a loose cap on the number of the taxpayer-supported schools that operate independently of traditional school systems.

If five are approved and none of the currently approved schools close, the total number of schools and school systems holding state-issued charters would reach the state's currently allowed maximum, which would be a record high of 34.

Scott Smith, the executive director of the Arkansas Public School Resource Center, a membership organization that advocates for and supports charter schools and mostly rural school districts, said Wednesday that the letters of intent reflect some differences compared with past cycles.

"This is a little bit of a smaller class as far as numbers of letters of intent than we have seen in some years," Smith said. "This is a little bit more of a grass roots effort -- fewer [national] charter management organizations [have submitted] in this cycle. And there's a little bit less of a focus on Little Rock and central Arkansas as compared to previous application cycles."

The letters envision a mix of elementary, middle and high schools as well as kindergarten-through-12th grade schools. Two organizations submitting letters of intent this week had applied in the past but were not successful. Two others have ties to existing charter schools in the state.

Responsive Education Solutions of Lewisville, Texas -- which operates four charter schools in Arkansas -- is proposing a Premier High School within the boundaries of the North Little Rock School District. The school would be a second-chance school for students who have dropped out or are likely candidates for dropping out of traditional high schools. There is already a Premier High School in Little Rock.

"The campus will focus on [course] credit recovery, drop-out prevention and accelerated instruction, with the end goal being high school graduation," Responsive Education Superintendent Steven H. Gast wrote in the letter of intent to apply. "The model strives to equip all students with the tools necessary for success in later years."

The plan calls for an enrollment of as many as 150 ninth-through-12th graders in the first year of operation and expanding over time to 225 students.

The Sims-Fayola Foundation of Aurora Colo., which served as a consultant last year on the Southeast Arkansas College Preparatory High School that is to open in August in Pine Bluff, is proposing the Sims-Fayola International Academy-Pine Bluff to serve up to 225 boys in grades six through eight.

The Prolific Learning Arts Academy and Pioneer Schools Inc. are proposed for locations in Pulaski County -- home to more than a dozen charter schools and systems.

The Prolific Learning Arts Academy would be housed in the American Taekwondo Association Building, 6210 Baseline Road, in Little Rock. The school for as many as 350 ninth-through-12 graders would "provide high quality educational standards that will foster visual and performing arts, social responsibility, multicultural awareness, project based learning, and real world best practices in the 21st Century."

Aviate Through Knowledge Inc., the sponsoring organization for the Prolific Learning Arts Academy and M. Edmond Davis, the executive director for the school, applied previously for a charter. The Charter Authorizing Panel voted against the application in part because the school's goal for achievement last year was too low and the school plan lacked some student support services.

Pioneer Schools Inc., is proposing a pre-kindergarten through 12th grade school for 75 students per grade for a total of 1,025 in the greater North Little Rock area. Pioneer would be a teacher training school, as well as an arts infused, career-focused school, William Thomas, the contact for the school, wrote in the letter of intent.

Micah Cummings-Sparrow, executive director of Focus STEM Academy of Benton County, is proposing a kindergarten-through eighth-grade school that would ultimately enroll as many as 900 pupils, starting with 400 in kindergarten-through-fourth grades.

The school to be in Bentonville with an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math projects is intended to promote innovation and creativity that would supplement the state standards so as to "better equip our next generation of leaders."

The Focus STEM Academy was first proposed last year for grades five through eight but did not gain Charter Authorizing Panel approval in part because of concerns about financial viability.

Also submitting letters of intent for charter schools to the Arkansas Education Department this week were:

• Drew Academy, which would be a Monticello-based campus with an enrollment of 175 kindergarten-through-fifth graders, including those with learning, cognitive, developmental and physical disabilities. Denise Courtney is the contact for the school.

• Likewise Inc. which is planning the Seven Lycaeum or "7L," a hybrid/virtual education program based in Searcy that would serve as many as 600 in kindergarten-through-12th grades and would reserve up to 15 percent of is seats for children of incarcerated college students. Jeff Kreh is the contact and president of Likewise, which provides education and publishing services and works to connect with those affected by incarceration.

• Sugarloaf Valley Educational Foundation, which is planning to operate a 300-student kindergarten-through-12th grade Sugarloaf Valley Academy in the Hartford /and Midland areas of Sebastian County in the wake of plans to close Hartford's elementary and high school campus in the Hackett School District. Sherry Barnes is listed as the launch director and contact for the school.

• Sulphur Springs Academy that would serve as many as 250 students -- primarily "troubled and foster children" in the Pine Bluff/Watson Chapel areas. Winter Mitchell is the director and contact for the school that "will teach our kids how to survive in our ever-changing world and how to overcome all obstacles in life."

Ark. Code Annotated 6-23-304 allows for an automatic increase of five in the number of charter schools each time the number of open-enrollment charters is within two of the existing charter school cap.

There are currently 24 charter schools or charter school systems in operation. In 2017 the charter school cap was set at 29 by the state Education Department. Four more charter school plans were then approved to open in the 2018-2019 school year and one more has been approved to open for the 2019-2020 school year.

As a result of that total of 29 that will be in operation in the upcoming school year, the new cap on the number of charters available for the next open-enrollment public charter school cycle 2019-20 has increased by five and is now 34.

Metro on 03/08/2018