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Charter schools for second-chance students get state panel's approval

by Cynthia Howell | August 18, 2021 at 7:02 a.m.
A classroom is shown in this 2015 file photo.

The proposed Premier High School of Fort Smith -- an open-enrollment charter school that primarily would target students who are unsuccessful in traditional high schools -- received preliminary approval Tuesday from the state Charter Authorizing Panel.

The panel also gave its support to:

• A second campus and a 1,225-student increase in the enrollment cap for Graduate Arkansas charter school, setting the maximum at 1,500 students.

• A 300-student increase, to 800, for the Pulaski County Special School District's new Driven Virtual Academy, a district-run conversion charter school.

• Permission to multiple charter schools to temporarily offer remote instruction to their students in the new school year contingent on submission by Sept. 1 of their full plans for virtual instruction.

The Premier High School of Fort Smith and all the other charter panel actions Tuesday are subject to final approval by the state Board of Education, which for some could come as soon as the Education Board's special meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday.

A Premier High School in Fort Smith -- to open in the 2022-23 school year -- would be the fourth Premier campus in the state. Responsive Education Solutions of Lewisville, Texas, already operates the Premier High in Little Rock that opened in 2013 and the North Little Rock campus that opened in 2019. Those two campuses have produced 201 diploma-earning students. A third campus is opening for the first time this month in Springdale, Steven Gast, superintendent of Responsive Education Solutions schools in Arkansas, said Tuesday.

There are 34 Premier campuses in Texas.

Like the other campuses in the system, the Fort Smith campus, with a maximum student enrollment of 300, would be open to all interested ninth-through-12th grade students but would target in particular those who have dropped out or are on the verge of dropping out of high school, Dennis Felton, state director of Premier schools, told the state charter panel.

"We offer a personalized learning environment that has high quality instructors and a viable curriculum," Felton said. "We also offer a flexible schedule that is blended with character education. We want to make sure that students not only get the academic support and content that they need but we want them to be better human beings as they go back into the communities."

The program calls for students to score at 70% or above on lessons to proceed to the next lesson. Each student has an adviser for achieving a high school diploma and for helping to make post-graduation plans, he said.

The proposed school would be within the borders of the Fort Smith School District but an exact location has not been identified.

In response to panel member questions about the delivery of career and technical education, Felton and Gast said the school will partner with community institutions for training and certifications in career fields. Prerequisite career and technical education courses would be taught at the Premier campus in preparation for those.

GRADUATE ARKANSAS

Graduate Arkansas, an open-enrollment charter school in Little Rock, is similarly a second-chance high school program approved to serve 275 students.

The state charter panel on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to the school at 6724 Interstate 30 to immediately open a second campus for 300 students within the Job Corps operation at 6900 Scott Hamilton Drive.

Graduate Arkansas will partner with Cincinnati Charter School Collaborative Vocation Program, which will provide technical training while Graduate Arkansas will provide academics. Job Corps is a federal residential educational and job training program for young adults ages 16 to 24.

Graduate Arkansas -- initially known as SIATech -- originated as a Job Corps program but separated when Job Corps rules no longer allowed students other than Job Corps students in the program.

Katie Hatley, superintendent of Graduate Arkansas, said Tuesday that having two campuses will allow for the separation of services for Job Corps students and students who are not affiliated with Job Corps.

Additionally, Graduate Arkansas received tentative approval Tuesday to provide an online curriculum to as many as 925 teens who are on probation, parole or court-ordered diversion in lieu of incarceration. Juvenile-court judges are expected to refer students to be served by Graduate Arkansas.

"We refer to our students as 'at promise' rather than 'at-risk,'" school business manager Brent Elliott told the panel in describing the school's mission.

The charter school seeks to serve low-income youth, students who are over-aged and lacking graduation credits in traditional schools, who are parents to young children, who need flexibility to accommodate work schedules or who are re-entering society after being jailed.

DRIVEN ACADEMY

In regard to the Pulaski County Special district's Driven Academy charter school, Rachel Blackwell of the district initially asked for a 250-seat addition to the original 500-student cap. Blackwell raised the request to 300 students during the meeting.

The virtual academy began operations Monday for the new school year at its maximum enrollment with more on the waiting list.

Blackwell told the panel that the 300-student addition to the school's cap would accommodate the waiting list of students for the kindergarten-12th grade school.

She attributed the parent interest in the new program to the surge of covid-19 cases in the state that started in July.

In response to panel questions, Blackwell said she didn't anticipate asking for an even larger cap. The school has to be able to have adequate numbers of teachers for the enrollment, she said.

Blackwell said the district is eager to get final approval of the increase enrollment number because families are at home waiting to get their children enrolled in Driven.

REMOTE LEARNING

The charter panel on Tuesday gave its OK to several charter schools to temporarily provide remote instruction -- away from the traditional classrooms -- to their students who desire that kind of instruction as a way to avoid becoming ill with covid-19. The charter schools must provide a full application and description of the remote instruction plan to the state by Sept. 1 to be able to continue the remote instruction.

The charter schools that sent in letters of intent to submit remote instruction plans by the first of the month are KIPP Delta, Westwind School for Performing Arts, Premier High School of Springdale, Imboden Area Charter School, Hope Academy of Northwest Arkansas, Haas Hall Academy, Future School of Fort Smith and Academics Plus.

The Charter Authorizing Panel, made up of state employees and interested Arkansans, will meet again at 9 a.m. today.

Print Headline: Charter schools for second-chance students get panel's approval

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