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Charter panel OKs Friendship's virtual learning plan

by I.C. Murrell | June 16, 2021 at 2:38 a.m.
A classroom is shown in this 2015 file photo.

A panel that authorizes charter schools in Arkansas gave its approval for the addition of a digital learning program at Friendship Aspire Academy Southeast Campus in Pine Bluff.

The Charter Authorizing Panel unanimously approved Friendship's request to offer asynchronous and synchronous instruction. The application was reviewed by the Arkansas Department of Education's Division of Elementary and Secondary Education and will go before the state Board of Education for final approval.

The Southeast Campus, formerly Southeast Arkansas Preparatory School, houses students in grades 10-12.

In asynchronous learning, students will spend time in required daily lessons but will have time away from the computer to work on hands-on activities, according to Friendship's application. Students must be engaged online to be marked present for the day.

In synchronous learning, all students must log into lessons at specific times. Synchronous programming will be used for core courses such as reading, math, social studies and science.

A digital learning amendment request for Friendship Aspire Academy Pine Bluff Campus, which serves elementary students, will be voted on during the panel's July meeting.

The panel also tabled a request for a charter amendment that would allow Friendship to establish a second elementary campus at 700 S. Main St.

Friendship Aspire Schools Deputy Superintendent Virginia Henry said Friendship Pine Bluff's enrollment is at its capacity of 400 students, with 72 on a waiting list. By increasing the enrollment cap from 480 students to 880 between two campuses, Friendship could add 50 seats at its 3911 S. Hazel St. campus to accommodate prekindergartners through fourth grade and add 100 more seats by 2022-23. The new location would hold 300 Pre-K through third grade students, starting with a rollout plan, she told the panel.

"It will be a small school, so we don't anticipate it will adversely affect enrollment at the Hazel Street location," Henry said. "The Hazel Street location is currently full and we have students on a wait list."

The charter schools are located in the Pine Bluff School District, and a school official told the panel that district Superintendent Barbara Warren was not yet notified of the request to add a campus and expand the enrollment cap, which led the panel to table the measure.

The proposed Main Street campus has drawn support from Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington, a former school teacher who sent a letter to the panel.

"Friendship Aspire currently operates two schools in the community, where children and teens are being offered high-quality learning and college preparation," she wrote. "Not only are the countless parents and students delighted with this educational experience, but I am also pleased with the outstanding services that I have witnessed upon numerous visits.

"Because of this, we strongly support the growth of Friendship Aspire, especially the development of a Pre-K-3 school."

The school would also advance the city's efforts to revitalize the area and support the economic development goals of Go Forward Pine Bluff and other community partners, she added.

"Furthermore, its proximity to the new Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Library and the Arts and Science Center will make the school an ideal location for creativity and innovative learning."

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