Future School of Fort Smith has received a $600,000 matching grant from the Siloam Springs-based Windgate Foundation.
Future School Founder and Superintendent Trish Flanagan told Talk Business & Politics on Friday (July 14) the first disbursement came in the spring semester of the 2016-2017 School Year. The requirement is that Future School raises $300,000 over a three-year period. In doing so, the Foundation releases a $100,000 payment for each year the goal is achieved.
Flanagan said the opportunity came to her when a community partner said someone in the Windgate family “might be into this creative concept, and so we just kept talking with our community partner about scheduling and, ‘Is there a best time for them to come down and meet with our students and hear directly from them what we’re doing here and have it be an authentic observation of what’s going on?’”
A meeting was arranged, and a Windgate representative visited the school in 2016, touring the facilities and meeting with students.
“I think the Windgate Foundation Board was impressed with Trish’s vision and passion for an exceptional charter program in Fort Smith,” Windgate Charitable Foundation Executive Director John Brown III told Talk Business & Politics. “The three year grant will help the school with a plan to incorporate a meaningful art program into the STEM education the teaching staff will be delivering to their students. The Foundation’s challenge grant will also hopefully encourage others in the Fort Smith area to give special support to The Future School. We believe that a variety of options for students in the Fort Smith School District helps to strengthen all public schools, as they seek to meet the needs and interests of their students.”
Another area where the grant will help is in allowing the school to expand its facilities, Flanagan said.
“We only get state funds in terms of public dollars. There are some federal funds we can get, but that’s based on certain populations of students. The bulk of our funding comes from the state, which is about $7,000 per student every year. We don’t receive any millage, or local property tax money directly, and we don’t receive facilities help from the state. We are on our own for all of that.”
Flanagan commended the school’s community partners for helping the school meet the grant requirement in year one before it was officially approved by the Windgate Foundation, noting that since Future School had already raised $100,000, Windgate started the grant immediately upon approval and sent the first $100,000 check “around April or May.”
“They just said, ‘We want to see the long-term buy-in from the community’ — as do I and as do we as a school — and they said, ‘Use the money how you need it,'” Flanagan said, adding the money has “allowed us to have breathing room and provide more programs for students.”
Flanagan said the “generous donors” the school has had thus far have allowed students to become involved in nontraditional learning opportunities through internships at locations like the 188th and Crystal Bridges
“We had a handful of students go to Little Rock to serve as pages on the House floor,” Flanagan added.
Since welcoming its first class of 73 in August 2016, Future School has attained membership with the Arkansas Athletic Association (AAA), eyeing “accessible” sports like basketball, tennis, golf, and even a mountain biking club. The school is launching a dance program in the 2017-2018 School Year as well while listening to student input about where to go next and relying on its willing resources — i.e. community partners and people saying, “‘Let me see how I can get involved and help,'” Flanagan said. “That’s been really fun to see, and that’s really our model. There are resources in any community, so we should tap into what’s there. It just might not be apparent right away.”
Flanagan also commended the Fort Smith School District for being “forward-thinking” and open to the school’s mission.
“Even compared to throughout the country, for a longstanding school district to be as open-minded as they are, is really impressive.”
Future School expects to enroll an additional 75 students as sophomores for the fall semester, doubling total enrollment to about 150. Additionally, the school has increased its teaching staff from four full-timers to eight for the coming year.