The Future School of Fort Smith took a big step toward reality on Wednesday (Oct. 14) when a state panel approved the application for the open enrollment charter school. The panel’s approval now faces a possible November review by the Arkansas Board of Education.
An application for Future School was filed July 28 with the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE). Trish Flanagan, director of the effort, and other charter school supporters will on Oct. 14 present the plan to state education officials in Little Rock.
KImberly Friedman, director of communications for the Arkansas Department of Education, said the next step in the process will happen in November.
“The State Board of Education will decide in November whether to review the panel's decision. If the board votes not to review, the panel’s decision is final. If the board votes to review the decision, the board will conduct another applicant hearing at a future meeting. The decision made by the board after its hearing will be final,” Friedman said in a statement to The City Wire.
With charter approval, the school would begin in 2016 with 150 students in 10th grade, and would add 150 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.
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 has 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.”
In what was a surprise action, the Fort Smith Public School Board on Sept. 28 voted to endorse the Future School’s application. School Board members grilled Flanagan and charter school supporters during a Monday (Sept. 14) committee meeting. Most Board members were concerned about the money the district would lose if the charter is approved. Because the charter school is open enrollment, students from any school district in the state may attend. If by year four there are 400 of the 450 students from the Fort Smith School District, the district would see a reduction in state funds of around $2.7 million.
Based on the Sept. 14 meeting, it appeared likely a neutral stance would be the best the charter school would get from the School Board.
UPDATED INFO: Flanagan said she is grateful for “the incredible support we’ve had.” She said she was told a “record-breaking number of legislators” supported the project. The state panel also “definitely recognized” how the School Board and others in the region have supported the charter school.
“The panel was very encouraging and supportive … to the point of having us document our startup process immediately so we could share our best practices with other educators in the state,” Flanagan said.
As to what’s next for the school, Flanagan said beginning the process to hire school leaders and instructors is critical.
“We just need to build our team at this point, and that will require a lot of work,” She said, adding that “there won’t be formal hiring for quite some time,” but the process will begin immediately.