Public gets first review of proposed new charter school in Fort Smith

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 176 views 

A group of around 25 people gathered Thursday (July 9) for a public meeting about a proposed public enrollment charter school in Fort Smith. Area business leaders are working with the Fort Smith Public School District and the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith to open by August 2016 a charter school for students in grades 10-12.

Trish Flanagan, founder of the effort to create Future School of Fort Smith, has said 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.

Flanagan said Thursday night during the presentation at Elm Grove Community Center that they would like to take a bus of educators, business leaders and others in the community for the ADE presentation. If all goes well, student recruitment would begin in the spring/summer of 2016.

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.

She said the school will be open to “extremely marginalized students” and those on a college prep path. Flanagan said she has toured more than 30 charter schools in six states, including the WATC program managed by UAFS.

“We found a lot of exciting models out there,” Flanagan told the audience, adding that the goal is to incorporate the best practices into what will work best in Fort Smith. “We are adamant that our school provides a service to the community.”

The school concept is being built on three “pillars,” according to Flanagan. Those are “real world collaboration,” “project-based learning,” and the use of integrated technologies. Concepts underneath those pillars include industry-focused curriculum, internships, mentors, project management skills and concurrent college credits. She said the school attempts to make education relevant and fun for the “diverse learning styles” among public school students.

Part of what makes the Future School concept unique is the partnership with the local school district and UAFS. Flanagan said the school has a memo of understanding with UAFS, but does not yet have a formal agreement with Fort Smith Schools.

In responding to a battery of questions from the audience, Flanagan said the school must comply with curriculum standards and other requirements of public schools, including common core. The school does have the ability to seek waivers on some rules, such as teacher certification. She said the state requires full transparency of the process, and said every aspect of the school’s structure and operations will be made public by the Arkansas Department of Education when the final draft of the application is filed. State education officials then begin their hearing process after the draft is filed.

Flanagan said the school will accept 100-150 students the first year for the 10th grade class, with the same amount for the following two years until a full cohort is reached for the school. If more applications are made than openings, the Arkansas Department of Education will conduct a lottery system, she said. Also, students from around Arkansas may attend the school, not just students from the Fort Smith district.

Funding comes from state money only, with no local millage or building funds available for charter schools. Flanagan said the school would start with a line of credit to fund start up costs, with those costs fully reimbursable by the state. With no access to local millage funds, Flanagan said the budget is roughly 30% smaller per student than a traditional public school.

Zartashia Javid, from Fort Smith, is hopeful her younger brother might attend the proposed charter school. Javid graduated in 2012 from the math and science charter school in Hot Springs that is under the University of Arkansas at Little Rock umbrella. She is now pursuing a biology degree at the UALR.

“I think it’s good that they are partnering with UAFS. That’s what really interested me in this,” Javid said when asked what she thought about the concept.

Two more hearings are set for 6 to 7:30 p.m., July 16 and 28, at the Elm Grove Community Center. The group is encouraging students, parents and educators to attend.

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