Acad­emy wins ap­proval for shift

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - CYN­THIA HOW­ELL

The Arkansas Board of Ed­u­ca­tion on Thurs­day gave ap­proval to plans to al­ter the in­struc­tional pro­gram and ex­pand the grades at what is now Quest Acad­emy of West Lit­tle Rock.

The board voted unan­i­mously for the re­con­fig­u­ra­tion of the open-en­roll­ment char­ter school on Rahling Road at a meet­ing in which it put the brakes on a pro­posed amend­ment to the state char­ter for the KIPP: Delta Pub­lic Schools, a sys­tem based in He­lena-West He­lena.

The Quest Acad­emy plan al­lows for the ad­di­tion of kinder­garten-through-fifth grades and a switch to a clas­si­cal lib­eral arts in­struc­tional pro­gram at a sixth-through 12th-grade school on Lit­tle Rock’s west side.

The change is to take ef­fect with the 2021-22 school year.

The ex­pan­sion of the west Lit­tle Rock char­ter school comes at a time when the num­ber of in­de­pen­dently op­er­ated, tax­payer-funded char­ter schools is con­tin­u­ing to in­crease in Pu­laski County. At the same time, the tra­di­tional Lit­tle Rock and Pu­laski County Spe­cial school dis­tricts have opened new sec­ondary schools in their western sec­tors.

Re­spon­sive Ed­u­ca­tion So­lu­tions, a char­ter-school man­age­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion based in Lewisville, Texas, ap­plied to Arkansas Char­ter Au­tho­riz­ing Panel last month to give up its state-is­sued char­ter for Quest Acad­emy at the end of this school year and at­tach the Lit­tle Rock school to the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s char­ter for North­west Arkansas Clas­si­cal Acad­emy, a kinder­garten-through-12th-grade school in Ben­tonville.

And, with that, the char­ter-school op­er­a­tors also pro­posed the in­struc­tional fo­cus at Quest change from tech­nol­ogy and ca­reer ed­u­ca­tion to a clas­si­cal ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram with its em­pha­sis on stim­u­lat­ing in­tel­lec­tual cu­rios­ity, crit­i­cal think­ing, and char­ac­ter build­ing — sim­i­lar to that in Ben­tonville. The in­struc­tional model calls for stu­dents to study for­eign lan­guages, start­ing with an in­tro­duc­tion to Latin in the third through sixth grades.

The plan also called for in­creas­ing the en­roll­ment cap for North­west Arkansas Clas­si­cal Acad­emy from 1,200 to 1,500 stu­dents to ac­com­mo­date both the Ben­tonville and Lit­tle Rock schools.

The Char­ter Au­tho­riz­ing Panel ap­proved the plan and for­warded it to the state.

The state board has the au­thor­ity to ac­cept the panel’s de­ci­sion on char­ter schools and char­ter-school amend­ments or to have its own hear­ing on a pro­posal be­fore mak­ing a de­ci­sion.

The Ed­u­ca­tion Board can de­cide to hold a hear­ing on its own or at the re­quest of the char­ter ap­pli­cant or af­fected tra­di­tional school dis­tricts. In this case, no tra­di­tional dis­tricts chal­lenged the ex­pan­sion of the school, and Ed­u­ca­tion Board mem­bers had few ques­tions about it on Thurs­day.

Ed­u­ca­tion Board Chair­man Jay Barth of Lit­tle Rock asked about the logic of hav­ing Ben­tonville and Lit­tle Rock schools so dis­tant from each other un­der the same char­ter, while Re­spon­sive Ed­u­ca­tion So­lu­tions’ Pre­mier High School of Lit­tle Rock and soon-to-open Pre­mier High in North Lit­tle Rock con­tinue to have sep­a­rate state-is­sued char­ters.

Alexan­dra Boyd, who has been the state’s char­ter-school di­rec­tor, said Re­spon­sive Ed­u­ca­tion So­lu­tions’ most suc­cess­ful school model is clas­si­cal ed­u­ca­tion. The Pre­mier high schools, on the other hand, are dropout-re­cov­ery schools.

As such, the Pre­mier schools have a more dif­fi­cult time meet­ing re­quired achieve­ment goals for es­tab­lish­ing du­pli­cate schools.

In re­gard to the KIPP char­ter amend­ment re­quest, the Ed­u­ca­tion Board will hold a hear­ing on it at its De­cem­ber meet­ing.

KIPP school op­er­a­tors asked for a waiver of a state law re­quir­ing spe­cial­ist/ coaches, data coaches and school im­prove­ment spe­cial­ists to hold teacher li­censes if their salaries are paid with a cat­e­gory of state money cal­cu­lated on the per­cent­age of their low-in­come stu­dents. The Char­ter Au­tho­riz­ing Panel ap­proved it.

Ed­u­ca­tion Board mem­ber Diane Zook of Mel­bourne made the mo­tion Thurs­day to re­view the pro­posed amend­ment at a hear­ing.

She said the state-is­sued let­ter grades for KIPP have de­clined in re­cent years and she wanted to ex­plore the cause of that.

Five of the six cam­puses earned D’s for the 2017-18 school year. The sixth had a C.

Zook pointed in par­tic­u­lar to be­low-state aver­age achieve­ment rates for black stu­dents, stu­dents from low-in­come fam­i­lies and spe­cial-ed­u­ca­tion stu­dents.

The plan also called for in­creas­ing the en­roll­ment cap for North­west Arkansas Clas­si­cal Acad­emy from 1,200 to 1,500 stu­dents to ac­com­mo­date both the Ben­tonville and Lit­tle Rock schools.

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