Public charter sought for ‘Future School of Fort Smith,’ seeks 2016 opening

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 177 views 

Fort Smith business leaders, working with the Fort Smith Public School District and the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, are moving forward with a plan to open by August 2016 a public charter school for students in grades 10-12.

Trish Flanagan, founder of the effort to create Future School of Fort Smith, said the group has planned public meetings from 6 to 7:30 p.m., July 9, 16 and 28, at the Elm Grove Community Center. The group is encouraging students, parents and educators to attend.

Info from Flanagan shows that they hope to have the charter application to the Arkansas Department of Education’s (ADE) Charter Authorizing Panel by the end of this summer. They plan to complete presentations to the ADE and get the charter approved by the end of 2015. If all goes well, student recruitment would begin in the spring/summer of 2016.

According to the Arkansas Public School Resource Center there are 20 open-enrollment public charter schools in Arkansas with more than 4,000 students.

“As a cross-sector partnership between the Fort Smith Public School District, the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and local businesses, Future School will be a tuition-free, public school determined to embolden students to identify interests, cultivate relevant skills and connect to real world learning, graduating with three years of workforce experience,” noted a statement from Flanagan. “As the first Big Picture Learning school in Arkansas, our Learning Through Internship (LTI) model, guides students to develop their strengths and passions while also preparing for in-demand employment opportunities.”

Flanagan said the proposed school would be a unique asset for Fort Smith.

“We will be one of the only charter schools across the nation to partner with the local school district, higher education and business to support our students. Building on a solid foundation provided by local schools, we strive to be an example of cooperation, innovation and champions of student voice,” she said in a statement.

Flanagan has experience also in connecting education to the business and entrepreneurial worlds. She has 14 years experience working as an educator working with communities around the United States and abroad. She is the co-founder of Noble Impact, a K-12 education initiative integrating public service with an entrepreneurial mindset. Noble Impact is supported by Steve Clark, founder of Fort Smith-based Propak Logistics.

Prior to starting Noble Impact, Flanagan led the University of Arkansas’ Social Entrepreneurship Pilot Initiative.While completing a concurrent master’s degree at the Clinton School of Public Service and the Walton MBA Program, she co-founded Picasolar, an award-winning (MIT-DOE Clean Energy Prize) solar company.

School benefits touted by the group include:
• Partner with local schools to build and improve new instructional approaches like project-based classrooms and integrated technology to offer a diverse range of options for students and families;
• Students work with advisors and mentors to identify their unique interests and design internships with local businesses and community organizations to explore potential careers;
• Help students to build “a real-world tool box” to be better positioned for career, vocational and college pathways; and
• Students work on standards‐based team projects to develop problem‐solving and communication skills as well as necessary mindsets such as empathy, determination, curiosity, and resilience.

Sam Sicard, president and CEO of Fort Smith-based First Bank Corp., said the school will create a “problem solving” learning environment.

“Future School of Fort Smith will provide a unique learning environment, fostering critical and creative thinking skills, as well as entrepreneurial and independent thought. The School will enable high school students to engage in real-world problem solving through partnerships with all community stakeholders. These are the skill sets our employers need, and these are the same skill sets needed for those who aspire to be job creators,” Sicard said in a statement.

Partnership with the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith provides a dual credit option for students of the proposed school.

“As an active partner, we are eager to help them incorporate college level dual credit so that students will graduate from Future School with both practical knowledge and a University of Arkansas – Fort Smith college transcript in hand,” said UAFS Chancellor Dr. Paul Beran.

The group is looking for a temporary building to lease for 1-2 years that is preferably near UAFS. The space should house about 100 students the first year, with growth up to 300 students by year three.

Link here for a two-page flyer from Future School of Fort Smith about their proposed new public charter school.