A ‘village’ of partners

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 91 views 

What does the 21st century hold for our young people? How do we prepare them for an unpredictable and unprecedented future in a global society? To begin to answer these pressing questions, we can look for guidance in a popular African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

This concept of pooling resources and working together continues to offer wisdom in a complex and shifting public education landscape. As a public school educator, I am humbled to witness this type of collaboration amongst a growing community of diverse Fort Smith residents in an effort to build, launch and sustain the Future School of Fort Smith. By working with the community, we most readily create a personalized learning environment, efficiently utilize limited resources and set an example where all education systems work together, putting students first.

We know that students are unique individuals and, as such, they learn differently. Some might work best independently, in a group, through verbal communication, artistic expression, or scientific inquiry. To meet these diverse needs, Future School offers a personalized learning plan for each student, including a range of course delivery options from: face-to-face instruction, on-line courses, real world learning through internships and concurrent courses. This personalization is reinforced through internships with local service organizations and companies, integrating meaningful relationships with trusted adults into the high school educational experience.

From church leaders to vice presidents of technology companies, our “village” of partners brings unique skills and interests as mentors for Future School students. Each student is at the center of a close-knit support team that is motivated to see the young person graduate with a world-ready ‘toolbox’ of work, collegiate and volunteer experience, meaningful relationships and successful completion of real projects in the ‘real world.” This ‘win-win’ collaboration also allows community mentors to develop life-long relationships with the next generation of community leaders and members of the workforce.

Some in the community have voiced opposition to the concept, envisioning a depletion of resources available to public school students. That simply is not the case. Future School, as an open-enrollment public school district, won’t steal dollars from traditional public school districts. We are primarily funded via state foundation funds that follow the student. This state funding is not sent directly to the district, as is the case in some other states; rather it follows the student to the school of their choice.

In addition, by utilizing existing building space, we would save the Fort Smith Public School system (FSPS) from spending “in excess of $65 million” to build and operate a third high school, while at the same time, creating an additional learning option for all of our high school students. Furthermore, Future School would relieve the overcrowding dilemma, cited by the FSPS board, in the high schools now and in the future.

It’s also been mentioned that Future School would siphon off the “best and brightest” from FSPS. As a tuition-free, open enrollment public charter school, the student enrollment process is “first come, first serve” until 150 spaces are taken, then a random lottery is held that is monitored by the Arkansas Department of Education. This allows both school districts, FSPS and Future School, to focus on all students, not just those who are excelling academically. We know we have a responsibility to all students and we welcome this opportunity to serve our Fort Smith community.

To sustain our education model, we work to efficiently manage our resources. We know that given changing U.S. demographics, advances in technology and its effect on our economy and workplace, it is paramount that education systems constantly evolve. This requires communities and schools to strategically utilize our resources and get smart about how we work together. To accomplish this, we have already begun building partnerships in the community to provide services such as recreation space and activities, transportation and a nutrition program to students at Future School. This type of collaboration is not only necessary, it’s inspiring! We have nearly 30 partnering agencies and individuals who have gotten behind our mission of cultivating the limitless potential of 21st century leaders- the village raising the child.

While, today it seems that we have endless options for things like what you plan to wear or watch on television. Shouldn't we also have a diverse range of educational options for students?

To respond to this need, a network of community leaders, educators, students, families, and businesses are partnering to open the doors of the Future School of Fort Smith in August 2016 as the third tuition-free, public high school. Rather than duplicate services already offered to students, Future School works to provide different options to meet the needs of all students most effectively. We aim to partner with other schools, community organizations and businesses and hope to be a ‘good neighbor’ in working together to maximize resources for all our students. We know it takes a village to raise the next generation of compassionate and innovative 21st century leaders.

For more information please visit our website, www.fsfuture.org or contact Trish Flanagan, school founder at [email protected]