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story.lead_photo.caption In this file photo, Jeremy Cegers, principal and superintendent of Southeast Arkansas Preparatory High School, watches as Arkansas Board of Education members discuss the fate of the school. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/John Sykes Jr.)

Southeast Arkansas Preparatory High School got a green light and a second wind from the state Board of Education on Thursday when it voted unanimously to keep the struggling school open.

The Pine Bluff charter school met the condition set by the board two months ago to get help from those who know how to keep a school running.

The 106-student school also will undergo a name change next year when it becomes Friendship Aspire Southeast Pine Bluff.

"Today was a great day for children and families in Pine Bluff," said Joe Harris, national executive director of the Friendship Education Foundation, a nonprofit charter management organization that has offices in Little Rock and Washington, D.C.

His foundation was the one brought in to give the school a boost.

"We have a road map now, and that's going to be a huge help to our students," Harris said. "The parental support we got from the community has been overwhelming."

During a board meeting in January, board members openly questioned whether the flailing school could continue to operate. The best way to save it, board member Ouida Newton said at the time, was to consult with an outside organization.

Jeremy Cegers, superintendent and principal of the school, told Newton he heard her constructive criticism and understood that he needed to seek guidance.

"I took it personally," Cegers said, conveying to the board that he got the message.

The Arkansas Charter Authorizing Panel recommended in November that the state-issued charter be revoked for the school. That was based on the school's F grade from the state Department of Education and its failure to provide special-education services to eligible students during the past two years.

In all, 66% of its students were in need of comprehensive reading assistance. The school also has been classified as being in "fiscal distress," according to state documents.

Cegers told the board Thursday that most of the 19 students eligible to graduate this year will do so. He also said the school's finances were on the upswing with a projected end-of-the-year balance of $70,000. By comparison, in January it was reported that the school was looking at a year-end negative balance of $3,414.

The school has its sights set on graduating the current crop of 106 high school students. By the time those in the eighth grade are entering their senior year, the school will have a "full open enrollment," Harris said, which will lead to hundreds more students.

Details of that full enrollment were not agreed upon Thursday. The board voted to table that matter until next month.

Metro on 03/13/2020

Print Headline: Efforts by PB charter school earn reprieve from state

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