Future School charter moves forward, ‘Big Picture’ talk to be held at UAFS

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 182 views 

An application for Future School, a public charter planned for Fort Smith, was filed July 28 with the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE). Trish Flanagan says she is “positive about where we are heading,” and is hopeful a large delegation will attend an Oct. 14 presentation to state officials in Little Rock.

Flanagan, a founder of the effort to create Future School of Fort Smith, hopes to get the charter approved by the end of 2015, with the school opening in August 2016. Officials with the proposed charter held public meetings in early July and have been gathering input from individuals and community groups. Sept. 15 is the deadline to get letters of support to ADE. A timeline from Future School shows that an ADE decision could happen between December 2014 and April 2015.

Flanagan 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.

The school concept is based on three “pillars,” according to Flanagan. Those are “real world collaboration,” “project-based learning,” and the use of integrated technologies. Flanagan said she is “meeting with a lot of different people,” including the business community, officials with the Fort Smith Public School District and a teacher’s group representative. She has enjoyed the visits with area educators.

“That’s really inspiring, to be honest with you, to have that conversation among educators … to create opportunities for all students. That’s truly what our mission is, and that is where we aligned,” Flanagan said.

Zena Featherston, spokeswoman for the Fort Smith Public School District, has said Superintendent Benny Gooden has asked the School Board if it wants to oppose, support or remain neutral on the charter application. However, in comments published by the Times Record, Gooden expressed concern about the financial loss the school could impose on the school district.

With charter approval, the school would begin in 2016 with 150 students in 10th grade, and would add 15 students and a grade each year until by year three the school would be home to grades 10-12 and 450 students. Funding for the school would come from the Arkansas Department of Education.

“In order to receive approval from the Arkansas Department of Education, we need to demonstrate financial viability based primarily on state foundation funding ($6,646 per student/year). We also anticipate financial support from various local, national and international philanthropic organizations that align with our mission and values,” noted part of a Q&A section from a recent Future School document. (Link here for the document.)

The biggest challenge is “just getting out accurate information” about what the proposed school is and isn’t, she said. The school is not meant to compete with the school district, but to be a collaborator in the pursuit of teaching models that work.

“The history of these (charter) schools was to be a laboratory for the larger school district,” Flanagan said.

She said the changing U.S. demographic, technology and its effect on the economy and workplace make it “inevitable” that education systems must constantly evolve and will require communities to “pull together our resources and get smart about how we work together.”

Part of the foundation for Future School comes from Big Picture Learning, a Providence, R.I.-based non profit group “dedicated to a fundamental redesign of education in the United States.” Elliot Washor, co-founder of Big Picture, will be at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith on Sept. 2 to talk about the program. Initially set to be held in a UAFS classroom, Washor’s presentation was moved to Breedlove Auditorium following more attendance demand than expected. It is set to begin at 6 p.m.

The event is hosted by UAFS, the Future School and the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.

Washor has been involved in school reform for more than 35 years as a teacher, principal, administrator, video producer, and writer. At Thayer High School in Winchester, N.H., Washor’s programs won the Innovations in State and Local Government Award from the Ford Foundation and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He was selected as one of the Daring Dozen by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, an honor recognizing “The Twelve Most Daring Educators in the World.”