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Seven applicants want to set up new open-enrollment charter schools across Arkansas, but there's not enough room for all of them.

The Charter Authorizing Panel -- and, ultimately, the Arkansas Board of Education -- can approve only as many as five of the seven, according to a state law that sets an annual cap on the number of charter schools, which are taxpayer-supported public schools that operate independently of traditional systems.

If five are approved and none of the existing charter schools in Arkansas 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.

Applications for the seven come from Pulaski and Sebastian counties, Bentonville, Searcy and Pine Bluff.

The panel's hearings on the proposed schools will be in August, said Alexandra Boyd, director of the state's charter school unit. Any newly approved schools could begin classes as early as the 2019-20 school year, but not before it.

Three of the newly proposed schools are planned for Pulaski County, which is now home to a dozen charter schools or charter systems with up to four more campuses -- a two-campus expansion of the eStem system, plus ScholarMade and possibly Friendship Aspire -- on track to open in the coming 2018-19 school year.

Additionally, the LISA Academy North charter school is expanding in Sherwood by adding a new high school building.


The Prolific Learning Arts Academy proposed for 6210 Baseline Road in Little Rock would serve as many as 350 students in ninth through 12th grades, near the intersection of Geyer Springs Road and not far from the site of the Little Rock School District's new Southwest High School that is scheduled to open in August 2020 as a replacement for the McClellan and J.A. Fair high schools.

The charter school plan calls for fostering creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem-solving, communication and collaboration. Educators would establish strong relationships with students, the proposal states. Respect, responsibility and relevancy would be features of the school, as would community and project-based learning, and a focus on the arts.

Aviate Through Knowledge Inc. is the sponsoring organization.

Kendall Ashley of Mabelvale, an official with that organization, wrote in the application that southwest Little Rock lacks school options and an arts-infused education program that could be particularly engaging for students from low-income backgrounds, from non-native English-speaking families or those who receive special-education services.

"Providing opportunities for arts-integrated instruction offers alternative avenues for students to access information and learn in English/language arts and mathematics, and may be more effective than traditional remedial programs, thus offering a resource in helping to close the achievement gap," Ashley's application to the state says.

Mike Poore, the state-appointed superintendent of the state-controlled Little Rock district since 2016, opposed several charter applications in 2017. He noted that the Prolific Learning Arts school plan was previously proposed but not approved.

"One of the things I testified about before on this high school is the challenge of trying to deliver the curriculum," Poore said. "I don't know if they have addressed that. That application is a little bit unique because there haven't been that many people trying to take on high schools within the charter environment. Typically they are trying to open up elementaries -- because it is a lot easier.

"High schools are much more challenging to deliver, whether it is us or a charter entity," he continued. I'll have to review [the application] with that lens to see if the questions presented by me and others -- including the state board and the charter authorizing panel -- are addressed."


The proposed charter schools, which are described in applications that range from 70 to 182 pages, vary in their size, location, grades to be served and educational programs. One is an all-boys school, which is rare among public schools.

The Pioneer School and Premier High School are proposed for North Little Rock.

The Pioneer School would serve as many as 1,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, starting with 350 in kindergarten through sixth grade in 2020-21, which builds in a one-year delay in opening to accommodate planning. The school is tentatively planned for 723 Maple St., the site of a North Little Rock fire station.

The school would feature co-teaching by master and apprentice teachers, shared leadership, and career and college development in the earliest grades with "maker spaces" and business partnerships, giving students hands-on projects and allow them to be active participants in their learning. The early grades would use the Montessori model for instruction. "Tinker labs" would enable high school students to prepare for high-paying jobs upon graduation.

A traditional school schedule would be used four days a week. The fifth day would be reserved for innovation, enrichment, tutoring and fundraising for "educational immersion" trips in fifth, eighth and 11th grades.

William Thomas of Little Rock is the contact for the Pioneer Schools and the head educational director.


The proposed Premier High School would serve 250 students in grades nine through 12 at a site not yet determined in North Little Rock. Responsive Education Solutions of Texas, which already has four Arkansas charter campuses and dozens of others in Texas, is the sponsor of the proposed school, which would duplicate programs at Premier High in Little Rock.

Premier High Schools provide students who have dropped out or are at risk of dropping out a personalized learning program that also emphasizes character development. Longer-than-average school days and exposure to college settings are features of the instructional program.

Steven Gast is the superintendent of Responsive Education Solutions' Arkansas schools. One of the board members for the organization is Charity Smith, an applicant for superintendent in the North Little Rock School District.


The Sims-Fayola International Academy in Pine Bluff would serve 200 boys in grades five through eight at a location not yet identified.

The nine "essential components" of the proposed school include extended school days and school year, data-driven instruction, emphasis on character development, single-set instructional strategies, project-based learning, cultural relevancy and a focus on international studies.

Three years of foreign language would be required, as would community service. Blended classroom and online instruction would be a feature at the school that would seek authorization to be an International Baccaluareate campus.

Dedrick Sims of Aurora, Colo., a 1992 graduate of Watson Chapel High in Pine Bluff, works at Sims-Fayola Foundation Inc.

He said that having a middle school for boys is a "reasonable part of the solution" for the community where teenagers need more support because too many are affected by suspensions, expulsions and delinquency.

"One of the reasons we are targeting grades five through eight is because it gives us a chance to reach young men who still feel good about their goals and their dreams and still have smiles in their eyes," Sims said. "Giving them a 360-degree circle of support around them, we have a better opportunity to add to the graduation rates " and ultimately to productive careers.


The proposed Focus Academy of Arts and Sciences in Bentonville would serve as many as 900 students in kindergarten through eighth grades, starting with 500 in the 2019-20 school year and growing by 100 students and a grade each year.

The school's location would be in a two-story vacant office building at 5121 Runway Drive in Bentonville.

The school's program would feature a curriculum built around inquiry and interdisciplinary math, science, technology and engineering projects. Daily physical education and music education would be other components with kindergartners exploring a variety of musical instruments and older children taking two years of piano and guitar lessons before participating in band in grades five through eight.

Sponsor of the school is Focus STEM Academy of Benton County. Micah Cummings-Sparrow of Bella Vista is the contact and executive director of the planned school.


The Seven Arts Lyceum, based in Searcy, would have as many as 700 pupils in prekindergarten through 12th grades from across the state, starting with 150 high school students in 2019-20 and adding lower grades over time.

The school would be an "online/hybrid"program that integrates family and community into student learning, resulting in the graduation of servant leaders, the application says.

The ninth through 12th grades would constitute the "Self Governance School" and would use college instructors to deliver at least some lessons.

"Subject experts from antiquity through today would provide lectures and case studies for our exploration," the application says. "Socratic small group and one-on-one conversations help students think critically and discover meaning." The parents and relevant faculty would make up each student's Victory Team.

The kindergar­ten-through-eighth grade "Paideia School" portion of the proposal would entail coaching parents to be the "primary influencer" on children's learning. For the youngest children, the program would aid the parent in designing, monitoring and adjusting each child's "Challenging Personal Performance/Productivity Outline" or "C3PO."

The sponsoring organization is Likewise Inc. and the contact is Jeff Kreh of Searcy, the president of the charter operation.


Sugarloaf Valley Academy in the Hartford and Midland areas of Sebastian County would serve 300 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, starting with 100 in kindergarten through fifth grade in 2019-20.

The school planners have not finalized the selection of the building but have a potential lease with Hartford for an empty medical building. Planners are also in negotiations for the possible Hartford High School gym building that could be expanded to accommodate a charter school.

Hartford was annexed by the Hackett School District in 2014.

The plans call for a small school system that would emphasize character development and a personalized, differentiated academic and instructional program that incorporates technology.

Sugarloaf Valley Educational Foundation is the sponsoring entity. John Harris of Wister Okla., is the contact and the planned charter's chief operating officer.

A Section on 05/05/2018

Print Headline: 7 schools set sights on 5 state charters; Three proposed for Pulaski County

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