Board OKs waivers for LR school sys­tem

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - ARKANSAS INSIDE - CYN­THIA HOWELL

The Lit­tle Rock School District is now among nearly 100 of the state’s tra­di­tional school dis­tricts to re­ceive waivers from state rules and laws that were ear­lier awarded to pub­licly funded but in­de­pen­dently op­er­ated char­ter schools.

The Arkansas Board of Ed­u­ca­tion voted unan­i­mously Thurs­day to waive a hand­ful of state teacher li­cen­sure laws and rules for the state’s largest district, clear­ing the way for the sys­tem to hire “con­tent ex­perts” such as com­puter pro­gram­mers, li­censed build­ing con­trac­tors and li­censed health care pro­fes­sional em­ploy­ees for the district’s brand-new Ex­cel ca­reer-ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram.

With­out the waivers of laws re­quir­ing state-cer­ti­fied teach­ers, the Lit­tle Rock district could not hire the spe­cial­ized em­ploy­ees with­out vi­o­lat­ing state ac­cred­i­ta­tion stan­dards.

Dis­tricts that vi­o­late state ac­cred­i­ta­tion stan­dards for two con­sec­u­tive years can lose their state ac­cred­i­ta­tion, mak­ing it harder for their high school grad­u­ates to be ac­cepted into col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties.

The Ed­u­ca­tion Board’s ap­proval of the Lit­tle Rock waiver re­quest — along with the Rus­sel­lville School District’s re­quest for waivers of dif­fer­ent rules to sup­port Rus­sel­lville High’s Ad­vanced

Place­ment pro­gram — raises to 98 the num­ber of dis­tricts that have waivers un­der Act 1240 of 2015, said Kelly McLaugh­lin, a pro­gram ad­viser in the state De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion’s char­ter-school unit.

Act 1240 of 2015 au­tho­rizes a school district to re­quest and re­ceive waivers of rules and laws given pre­vi­ously to one or more open-en­roll­ment char­ter schools that en­roll stu­dents from the tra­di­tional district that re­quests waivers.

“What a great op­por­tu­nity for all dis­tricts,” Lit­tle Rock Su­per­in­ten­dent Mike Poore told the Ed­u­ca­tion Board about the waivers. “It not only cre­ates a level play­ing field with char­ters but al­lows in­no­va­tion.”

Poore was su­per­in­ten­dent of the Ben­tonville School District when that North­west Arkansas sys­tem be­came the first in the state to re­quest Act 1240 waivers for that district’s Ig­nite ca­reer-ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram, which is a model for Lit­tle Rock’s Ex­cel pro­gram.

Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sioner Johnny Key ap­pointed Poore to head the state-con­trolled Lit­tle Rock School District in mid-2016. With the ap­point­ment came the di­rec­tive from Key to Poore to de­velop a new ca­reer-ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram in the district.

The Ex­cel pro­gram ini­tially at­tracted 150 high school stu­dent ap­pli­cants, Poore said Thurs­day. But some course schedul­ing prob­lems at the be­gin­ning of this school year re­duced that num­ber to about 70 stu­dents who are dis­trib­uted among four ca­reer strands: med­i­cal fields, con­struc­tion, teach­ing and tech­nol­ogy.

The stu­dents spend half the day at their reg­u­lar high schools and then 2½ hours in the Ex­cel cour­ses that are housed in dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions in the city. The tech­nol­ogy stu­dents, for ex­am­ple, are tak­ing their course work at Aris­to­tle Inc., a Web ser­vice com­pany.

The teacher ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram is housed at the Univer­sity of Arkansas at Lit­tle Rock. Course work in the med­i­cal pro­fes­sions is taught at Bap­tist Health in Lit­tle Rock and the con­struc­tion trade cour­ses are taught at the district’s Metropoli­tan Ca­reer Tech­ni­cal Cen­ter, Poore said.

Qual­i­fied stu­dents in Ex­cel are el­i­gi­ble to earn con­cur­rent credit in the dif­fer­ent fields from the Univer­sity of Arkansas-Pu­laski Tech­ni­cal Col­lege. The tu­ition for the con­cur­rent credit is be­ing paid by com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions.

How­ever, Poore said, not all of the Ex­cel stu­dents earned high enough scores on the ACT col­lege en­trance exam or other tests to qual­ify for the con­cur­rent credit pro­gram. As a re­sult, the district was not able to rely on col­lege fac­ulty for teach­ing all stu­dents in the ca­reer cour­ses, prompt­ing the district to seek waivers to put con­tent spe­cial­ist in­struc­tors on the teacher pay­roll.

The Lit­tle Rock district, home to al­most half of the open-en­roll­ment char­ter schools in the state, based its waivers re­quest on waivers awarded to eStem Pub­lic Char­ter Schools Inc.

The five-year waivers are from Arkansas Code An­no­tated 6-15-1004 that re­quires qual­i­fied teach­ers in every pub­lic school class­room; 6-17-309 that re­quires cer­ti­fi­ca­tion to teach grade or sub­ject mat­ter; 6-17401 that sets up teacher li­cen­sure re­quire­ments; 6-17-902

that es­tab­lishes the def­i­ni­tion of a teacher; and 6-17-919 that says teacher salary war­rants are void with­out cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and a con­tract.

Shameka Mont­gomery, the Lit­tle Rock district’s direc­tor of ca­reer and tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion, said the ca­reer field spe­cial­ists will prove to be a boon to the Ex­cel pro­gram and its stu­dents.

“In my ex­pe­ri­ence … our big­gest gains re­sult from industry-ex­pe­ri­enced staff,” Mont­gomery told the board. “We can teach out of a text­book all day, but it’s best to al­low stu­dents to hear from industry pro­fes­sion­als,” she said.

Buck­ley O’Mell, vice pres­i­dent for ad­vo­cacy at the Lit­tle Rock Re­gional Cham­ber of

Com­merce, spoke in sup­port Thurs­day of the waivers and the Ex­cel pro­gram.

The cham­ber be­gan work­ing two years ago with the school dis­tricts in Pu­laski County to ex­pand their ca­reer and tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams.

The state Ed­u­ca­tion Board’s day­long meet­ing Thurs­day was held in the au­di­to­rium of the Arkansas De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity. The board and other Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment-af­fil­i­ated or­ga­ni­za­tions will meet at the En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity De­part­ment for the re­main­der of the cal­en­dar year while the au­di­to­rium in the Arch Ford De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion Build­ing on the state Capi­tol mall is be­ing re­mod­eled.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/BEN­JAMIN KRAIN

Lit­tle Rock School District Su­per­in­ten­dent Mike Poore (left) talks with Marvin Bur­ton, deputy su­per­in­ten­dent, dur­ing a meet­ing Thurs­day of the Arkansas Board of Ed­u­ca­tion.

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