School for kids in trauma fa­vored

Char­ter pro­posal bound for board

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - Front Page - CYN­THIA HOW­ELL

The state’s Char­ter Au­tho­riz­ing Panel on Tues­day en­dorsed a pro­posed open-en­roll­ment char­ter school de­signed to ex­pand the availabili­ty of ed­u­ca­tional and so­cial/emo­tional ser­vices to young chil­dren who have ex­pe­ri­enced trauma.

The Hope Academy of North­west Arkansas — to en­roll as many as 70 pupils in kinder­garten through sixth grade by the 2024-25 school year at its lo­ca­tion within the Ben­tonville School Dis­trict — is now sub­ject to fi­nal ap­proval by the Arkansas Board of Ed­u­ca­tion at a meet­ing later this year.

Hope Academy is the only pro­posed open-en­roll­ment char­ter school in the works for the 2020-21 school year. Other or­ga­ni­za­tions sub­mit­ted ap­pli­ca­tions for char­ter schools in the 2020-21 char­ter school ap­pli­ca­tion cy­cle but ul­ti­mately with­drew.

The state has 26 open-en­roll­ment schools or char­ter school sys­tems, all of which are op­er­ated by non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions other than tra­di­tional pub­lic school dis­tricts. The schools are el­i­gi­ble for waivers of some state laws and rules that typ­i­cally ap­ply to pub­lic schools. In re­turn for that flex­i­bil­ity, the open-en­roll­ment char­ter schools are supposed to be held to stricter ac­count­abil­ity stan­dards.

If Hope Academy is ul­ti­mately es­tab­lished, it will join the four Haas Hall Acad­e­mies, the Arkansas Arts Academy, North­west Arkansas Clas­si­cal Academy, LISA Academy and the Fu­ture School of Fort Smith char­ter schools in pro­vid­ing char­ter ed­u­ca­tion op­tions in the north­west part of the state.

Maury Peter­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the 26-yearold North­west Arkansas Chil­dren’s Shel­ter that is the spon­sor­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Hope Academy, told the char­ter panel that the academy is an in­no­va­tive ed­u­ca­tional school model for some of the state’s most vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren.

She said the school will be an ex­ten­sion of the mis­sion of the ex­ist­ing shel­ter, which is to be a safe haven and place of hope for chil­dren who have been abused, ne­glected, aban­doned or oth­er­wise suf­fered mal­treat­ment — sit­u­a­tions that she said are real, per­va­sive and grow­ing in the north­west re­gion.

The shel­ter has op­er­ated a school for 20 of its 26-year his­tory in part­ner­ship with the Ben­tonville School Dis­trict.

“Our goal with Hope Academy is to take our years of ex­pe­ri­ence and ex­per­tise in trauma-in­formed care and ex­pand it into the com­mu­nity to reach even more chil­dren at risk,” Peter­son said. “Our K-6 model will al­low us to have longevity with stu­dents to have even greater im­pact. Our wrap­around ser­vices will al­low us to part­ner with fam­i­lies to help them ac­cess other needed ser­vices that the pub­lic school dis­tricts sim­ply do not have the ca­pac­ity to ad­dress.”

Those ser­vices in­clude the as­sign­ment of a case man­ager to each fam­ily, vis­its to the homes ahead of the start of school, ac­cess to men­tal health coun­selors and par­ent­ing train­ing, vouch­ers to the shel­ter’s thrift store. and de­liv­ery of snacks and meals to the homes.

Jake Gibbs, ed­u­ca­tion di­rec­tor of the chil­dren’s shel­ter, said the chaos in a child’s life affects brain devel­op­ment — de­creas­ing a child’s abil­i­ties to process and com­mu­ni­cate.

“The good news is that re­search shows us that we can re­verse th­ese … in young chil­dren” by fos­ter­ing a sense of trust and safety, he said.

To help do that — in ad­di­tion to sup­port pro­vided to the fam­ily — the pro­posed char­ter school will be staffed at a ra­tio of one teacher and two aides per 10 chil­dren, Gibbs said.

He also de­scribed the ed­u­ca­tion cur­ricu­lum, which will in­clude project-based learn­ing, as well as in­struc­tion and sup­port for so­cial and emo­tional learn­ing.

The school will have two buses that will run morn­ing and af­ter­noon routes. The cam­pus for the school is on 80 acres near the North­west Arkansas Re­gional Air­port. The ex­ist­ing build­ing is 65,000 square feet with two play­grounds, a li­brary, 123-seat cafe­te­ria, a full-size gym and sport fields.

In ad­di­tion to state fund­ing for the school stu­dents, Gibbs said, the school has con­tri­bu­tions and com­mit­ments of $1.6 mil­lion and ac­cess to the shel­ter’s $4.3 mil­lion pro­gram fund if needed as a last re­sort.

Gibbs urged the ap­proval of the plan that will make the state a leader in “paving the path for kids with sig­nif­i­cant trauma.”

“The days of wait­ing for the ju­ve­nile jus­tice and cor­rec­tions sys­tems to in­ter­vene are over,” he also said.

Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, and Ben­tonville School Dis­trict Su­per­in­ten­dent Deb­bie Jones told the char­ter panel that they supported the pro­posed char­ter school. Hester is a mem­ber of the board of di­rec­tors for the spon­sor­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“We be­lieve that they have wrap-around ser­vices far be­yond what we can pro­vide … for th­ese stu­dents,” Jones said.

“We are in to­tal sup­port,” she said.

The plan for the academy en­vi­sions the Ben­tonville School Dis­trict pro­vid­ing train­ing to the academy teach­ers.

Mem­bers of the au­tho­riz­ing panel — who are a mix of the state’s Ele­men­tary and Sec­ondary Ed­u­ca­tion Di­vi­sion em­ploy­ees and other in­di­vid­u­als in­ter­ested in char­ter schools, ques­tioned the school plan­ners about op­por­tu­ni­ties for shar­ing the model with other parts of the state.

Ivy Pf­ef­fer, panel chair­man and deputy com­mis­sioner of the Ele­men­tary and Sec­ondary Ed­u­ca­tion Di­vi­sion, also asked about the im­pact of the school get­ting a waiver of the state law for a com­pre­hen­sive coun­sel­ing pro­gram.

Tripp Wal­ter, an at­tor­ney for the Arkansas Pub­lic School Re­source Cen­ter and an adviser to char­ter school plan­ners, of­fered as­sur­ances that the school in­tends to pro­vide coun­sel­ing and guid­ance ser­vices in a dif­fer­ent way and does not at all in­tend to avoid pro­vid­ing ser­vices.

Pf­ef­fer fur­ther ques­tioned the pro­posed school’s plan to pro­vide its own school meals and forgo use of the U.S. De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture’s na­tional school lunch pro­gram.

Rick Brazile, the fi­nance di­rec­tor of the Chil­dren’s Shel­ter, re­sponded that the shel­ter had tried the fed­eral meal pro­gram in the past but con­cluded that the home-cooked meals were more ben­e­fi­cial to the chil­dren and less­ened food waste. He ac­knowl­edged that the school could lose ac­cess to fund­ing that is hinged on a school’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the fed­eral school food pro­gram.

“We will ap­ply for ev­ery bit of fund­ing that we can,” Brazile said and asked for state help in that.

Panel mem­ber Nac­ca­man Wil­liams of Springdale praised the com­mu­nity sup­port demon­strated for the plan.

Panel mem­ber Toyce New­ton of Cros­sett called the plan ambitious and said she was look­ing for­ward to its suc­cess.

A to­tal of four or­ga­ni­za­tions ini­tially applied for state char­ters for new schools last spring. Three with­drew their ap­pli­ca­tions, in­clud­ing the Trans­form­ing Life Min­istries Care Cen­ter, which with­drew its plan Tues­day morn­ing af­ter Char­ter Au­tho­riz­ing Panel mem­bers ex­pressed reser­va­tions about ad­e­quate fund­ing for the school.

The pro­posed Dr. Elam Lloyd Academy of Ex­cel­lence in North Lit­tle Rock called for serv­ing up to 400 stu­dents in grades six through 12 by the 2024-25 school year at a site not yet iden­ti­fied in North Lit­tle Rock.

Ash­ley Miller, a de­signer of the school plan, told the panel that the school would pro­vide an ed­u­ca­tional al­ter­na­tive for North Lit­tle Rock area fam­i­lies.

Greg Rogers, a panel mem­ber and an as­sis­tant com­mis­sioner in the ele­men­tary and sec­ondary di­vi­sion, sug­gested that the school’s cal­cu­la­tion of state aid, sup­ple­men­tal state fund­ing and or­ga­ni­za­tional grants was too high. He also ques­tioned the source of fund­ing for any prepa­ra­tions that would be needed for trans­form­ing a build­ing into a school.

Miller said she wanted to with­draw the ap­pli­ca­tion and reap­ply for a state char­ter in the next cy­cle.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/JOHN SYKES JR.

Maury Peter­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the North­west Arkansas Chil­dren’s Shel­ter, em­braces shel­ter fi­nance di­rec­tor Rick Brazile af­ter their ap­pli­ca­tion was ap­proved Tues­day in Lit­tle Rock.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/JOHN SYKES JR.

Jacob Gibbs (left) and Maury Peter­son of Hope Academy of North­west Arkansas watch Tues­day in Lit­tle Rock as their char­ter school ap­pli­ca­tion is ap­proved by the Char­ter Au­tho­riz­ing Panel.

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