Van Buren charter school approved for grades K-12 by 2021-2022 school year

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 683 views 

The Van Buren School District has received charter approval for its planned Arkansas River Valley Virtual Academy (ARVVA), the district’s first charter school set to open to grades 4-8 for the 2017-2018 school year. The goal of the charter is to add grades each year until it is K-12 with a capacity of 325 by the 2021-2022 school year.

The Arkansas Department of Education recently approved the charter along with other requests from Harrison High School and the Harrisburg School District.

In a letter dated Feb. 29, 2016, Van Buren Schools Superintendent Dr. Harold Jeffcoat said the district charter conversion would be located at 821 Pointer Trail East, site of the Van Buren Freshman Academy, with an alternate location separate from the existing campus to be sought as the virtual academy expands.

The proposed initial enrollment cap was listed as 200, and the school would “give students and families the opportunity for choice in their public education,” Jeffcoat said, adding that “Virtual learning is an effective mode of educational delivery that is growing throughout the U.S. As technology continues to advance in our culture and education continues to evolve, we must be willing to create systems that meet the needs of all students, including those who desire a virtual learning experience.”

He continued: “Online instruction, as well as a blended learning environment, is ideal for students who need more flexibility in their education. The River Valley Virtual Academy will provide homeschool and traditional students a unique and personalized learning opportunity. Students interested in an accelerated learning plan or early graduation will be able to progress at a rate that corresponds with their ability and aspirations.”

In addition to accelerated learners and the district’s 234 homeschool students, the charter could prove an attractive option for “at-risk” students.

According to the district’s application packet, the poverty rate of the VBSD is 66.52%, and the charter would appeal to many of these students because “Students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to have attendance issues, which can ultimately result in dropping out.”

The ARVVA won support from within the community with more than two dozen attending a May 31 public hearing and community business and government leaders like Nathan Hurst, senior vice-president at Bank of the Ozarks, stating, “The opportunities created by this groundbreaking program will be invaluable to our community, as it will serve a variety of students and families in innovative ways.”

Van Buren Mayor Bob Freeman agreed in a July 27 letter of endorsement, calling the charter “an excellent opportunity for the district to serve underrepresented populations in the region, as well as create opportunities for individualized study.”

“I also believe that the creation of a conversion charter school will help those who have chosen to homeschool their children,” Freeman said, adding that Van Buren’s “many excellent teachers … employed in the Van Buren School District will be engaged in offering courses, advising students, and working with parents in many different ways.”

The district will fund the charter school through the state funding matrix, which provides $6,646 per student. At a planned first-year capacity of 125 students, the $830,750 total will fund faculty/staff ($250,000); online courses/curriculum ($432,950); equipment for the 40% of enrolled students who qualify for free lunches ($12,500 or $250 per student); and field experience/service projects/activities ($25,000) with $110,300 in foundation funding remaining for additional costs.

The numbers are “assuming new student enrollment,” the packet explains. “For students who are currently enrolled in the traditional classroom setting who transition to the conversion charter school, operational efficiency measures will be implemented” and per student costs in traditional settings will be reallocated to the charter if needed.

Van Buren’s charter school will be the second in the Fort Smith region following Future School of Fort Smith, which opened in August to an enrollment of 65 10th grade students. The school plans to add one grade per year until hitting the 10-12 mark by the 2018-2019 school year.