Arkansas Arts Academy's seventh- and eighth-graders would move to the academy's high school campus under a plan approved Thursday by the state's Charter Authorizing Panel.
The panel voted unanimously in favor of the move. The state Board of Education may decide to review the proposal if it so wishes at its next meeting.
A breakdown of Arkansas Arts Academy’s enrollment and how many are on the waiting list by level, as of Oct. 6:
Level, Enrollment, Waiting List
Elementary School (K-5), 378, 348
Middle School (6-8), 188, 83
High School (9-12), 237, 4
Total (K-12), 803, 435
Source: Arkansas Arts Academy
Mary Ley, the school's chief executive officer, said she also must get approval of her school's board before she can move forward with the plan. She already has shared the concept with board members, staff members and parents.
The school may decide to move eighth grade one year and seventh grade the next. The Charter Authorizing Panel gave the school some flexibility in determining what scenario works best, which Ley said she appreciated.
"We'll be working pretty aggressively to figure it out," she said.
The academy is split into two campuses in Rogers -- one on South 12th Street for grades kindergarten through eight, the other on West Poplar Street for grades nine through 12.
The high school campus is undergoing a major renovation and expansion to increase capacity from 250 to 600 students by next fall. Shifting two grade levels to the high school campus would free space for additional elementary students.
The high school has always been configured to allow more students per grade level than the elementary-middle school campus. It's difficult to increase the enrollment of a class as it grows older, so it makes sense to start kindergarten at the same number of students needed for the high school, according to a document from the academy explaining the proposed change.
Each grade level has an average of fewer than 70 students. The school's goal is 100 students per class. There are more than 400 children on the waiting list for a spot on the elementary-middle campus, according to the document.
"It's really hard to turn people down, so if seventh and eighth grades move, we can add one to two more classes per grade," Ley said.
She added seventh- and eighth-graders would have more opportunities to get involved in higher-level performances.
Arkansas Arts Academy, an open-enrollment charter school, has about 800 students, though it was granted permission last year to expand up to 1,225 students.
Kristle Sanchez, a mother of three academy students and president of the parent-teacher association at the elementary/middle campus, said she's not completely decided how she feels about the pending move, though she's leaning in favor of it.
Seventh- and eighth-graders would have more time to get to know the people who will teach them in high school and will better understand what's expected of them once they reach that level, Sanchez said.
She does have some concern, however, about students as young as 12 mingling with students as old as 18 in the same facility.
"It's just that maturity gap," Sanchez said. "Hopefully the upperclassmen will be able to model a high standard."
Ley said she's visited some of the best arts schools in the nation and all are either grades six through 12 or seven through 12.
"That model has worked really well in the arts," she said. "That gave us some assurance we are going in the right direction."
Haas Hall Academy, another charter school which operates a campus just down the street from Arkansas Arts Academy's high school, is for grades seven through 12.
NW News on 10/20/2017
Print Headline: Rogers school earns panel's OK for grade configuration switch