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story.lead_photo.caption Tyson School of Innovation is on Hylton Road in Springdale. The school opened in 2014 for eighthgraders. - Photo by NWA Democrat-Gazette / MICHAEL WOODS • @NWAMICHAELW

Springdale's Tyson School of Innovation is one step away from officially having a new name and flexibility in deciding when to add additional grades.

The state's Charter Authorizing Panel on Thursday voted 5-0 in support of both requests.

The panel also voted 4-1 to endorse changes in the length of the school day and school year for the Ozark Montessori Academy in Springdale and gave preliminary approval to three open-enrollment charter plans, one in Little Rock and two in Pine Bluff.

Items know go to the Arkansas Board of Education in September for approval.

The School of Innovation is a technology-rich STEM -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- school that embraces flexible and blended learning to promote student success, according to the school's web page. It's a conversion charter school, meaning it's run by the School District.

Springdale's School Board voted in 2016 to name the School of Innovation in honor of Don Tyson, the former chairman and CEO of Tyson Foods who died in 2011.

The Tyson family donated $1.5 million for the construction of the school at 2667 Hylton Road. The school opened in 2014-15 in The Jones Center and moved to the Hylton Road facility for the 2016-17 school year.

The school was previously approved for kindergarten through 12th grades with certain grades to be added in certain years. The amendment the panel supported Thursday allows the school the flexibility to change the years in which the grades are added.

Earlier plans called for the school to expand to grades 3-12 in the 2018-19 academic year and K-12 the following year. The district in June received approval to open the school up to seventh-graders this year for a pilot program using waivers.

Megan Slocum, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, and Kendra Clay, student personnel and legal services director, represented the School District at Thursday's meeting. They also presented to the full state board in June to earn the approval.

Thursday's presentation was seeking official approval.

Slocum told the state board in June the district's goal with Tyson School of Innovation was to provide a different way for students to approach learning.

"And we started that process and initially wrote what that was going to look like, with the anticipation that we were going to grow up first, up to 12th grade, and then work our way down," she said in June. "And what we heard back from parents resoundingly is, 'We want our children to be able to access that.'"

Rick Schaeffer, the district's communication director, said 76 seventh-graders signed up for the pilot program.

"We are not going to K-12 immediately. We don't have the space," he said. "But this gives us the ability to make that move in the future."

Schaeffer said state money is available for the expansion project, but no official timetable has been set for construction.

The state Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation Commission earlier this year approved $14.9 million in state air for expanding the Tyson School of Innovation. Deputy Superintendent Jared Cleveland said the project could cost from $30 million to $35 million.

The School District must hire a construction manager by Nov. 1, 2018 to receive the state money. Cleveland said in May the building phase would likely begin in May 2019 with the deadline for completing construction being May 2021.

Ozark Montessori Academy request was for a shorter school year for students -- from 188 days to 178 days -- and reducing the extended school day to a traditional school day with tutoring available from 3-4 p.m. two times a week for students requiring the assistance.

The panel voted 4-1 to support the request.

NW News on 08/18/2017

Print Headline: Panel approves charter school changes

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