BENTONVILLE -- The School Board approved a proposal Monday to sell property on Southeast 14th Street and move its alternative learning environment from there to Bentonville High School.
The decision followed nearly 90 minutes of discussion and debate. The board voted 4-2 for the proposal, with Rebecca Powers and Travis Riggs voting against it. Willie Cowgur was absent.
Gateway, the alternative learning environment for more than 100 high school students, has been located since 2013 in one of two buildings -- both of which have 12,000 square feet -- the School District owns near the corner of Southeast 14th and Southeast J streets. The district's student services department also is housed on the site.
Administrators proposed selling the property, which they expect will bring the district $3.5 million. That will help pay for a renovation of Lincoln Junior High School that's expected to cost $4.8 million.
Gateway will move into a section of the second floor of the high school's south building this summer. It will be accessible via a staircase at the northwest corner of the building. Gateway will have nine classrooms and a science lab to itself, plus access to school facilities such as the gymnasium and library.
Gateway's capacity will expand to 150 students. It currently has 113 students, with 16 more attending night school.
Several board members expressed concern about the effect the move will have on Gateway, saying the students have benefited from the small environment their current location provides. Bentonville High School, in contrast, has about 3,000 students.
Jack Loyd, Bentonville High School's principal, said Gateway will be a "school within a school," though he admitted developing the kind of culture there Gateway students enjoy on their current campus will require work.
Gateway was housed on the high school's campus before it was moved in 2013. Loyd said school officials learned from that experience, and Gateway will be in a better location this time around.
"We didn't do it right," he said. "We put it in the portables out back. Students called that the trailer park, and they didn't mean that in a positive way."
Powers had prepared a seven-page handout that she distributed, raising questions and concerns about the proposal. The decision isn't just about space and finances, she said.
"It's about real, authentic, at-risk students who need us to not forget them in our decisions and direction for our district. We need facts along with our fundamental mission: Students first," Powers said.
Students land in Gateway for one of numerous reasons. It could be because they're behind on credits, or because they struggle in a traditional high school environment, Loyd said. Alternative learning environments have smaller student-to-teacher ratios.
Superintendent Debbie Jones said it's not the facility that makes the alternative education program successful, but rather the staff and the personalized learning students receive.
Riggs raised concerns about putting Gateway back among the general population at Bentonville High School. He also questioned the wisdom of selling property when the district is usually in need of space. He pointed out five months ago, the district bought a building on North Walton Boulevard to house its Ignite high school program.
Riggs said he may have voted not to buy the Ignite building if he'd known the district would turn around and sell its 14th Street property.
Facility changes necessary at the high school to accommodate Gateway will cost about $8,250.
The district also expects to gain space with a building it owns next to Washington Junior High School that now houses the Helen Walton Children's Enrichment Center.
The center is moving to a facility of its own this summer. That will allow the district to move its student services, central pre-kindergarten and childcare enrichment departments to the building now occupied by the center, once renovations costing about $500,000 are complete.
How they voted
The Bentonville School Board voted 4-2 on Monday to sell its property on Southeast 14th Street and move the Gateway program to Bentonville High School. Here’s how they voted:
Source: Staff Report
NW News on 02/05/2019
Print Headline: Bentonville School Board votes to put Gateway back at high school