The Future School of Fort Smith has been approved to accept ninth-grade students for the 2021-22 school year, adding to its 11th and 12th grade classes.
The school met with the state Charter School Authorizing Panel, which oversees the authorization, renewal, revision and revocation of charters in Arkansas, to make their proposal for adding ninth grade to the school.
The school opened its doors Aug. 22, 2016 in downtown Fort Smith as a tuition-free, public charter high school centered on a personalized approach to learning via student-designed internships, personalized learning plans, and an advisor for each student. It now serves students in 10th through 12th grade and graduated its first class of seniors in May 2019.
Trish Flanagan, chief growth officer for the Future School and the founder/CEO of Think Future, said the approval of adding ninth grade to the school was validation of what the school is doing.
“The Department of Education sees that we are building momentum and support. They see what the students and families see that there is a need across the system of what education can be in the 21st century,” Flanagan said.
The school’s board approved a $5.8 million building expansion Jan. 21. The expansion will add 18,000 square feet to the existing school, which is now 16,000 square feet. At the time the addition was approved, Superintendent Boyd Logan said the expansion would replace modular buildings the school uses and add enough classroom space that the school can open to ninth grade students. But they first had to have approval. Logan said he had to present to the panel why they wanted to expand the school’s reach and justify why it is needed.
“We pointed to our history and our success and tried to point out how we can accomplish more if we open to ninth grade as well,” Logan said.
By adding ninth-grade, the school will be able to reach more students and have more time to help them on their way to success, he said.
“When we get students in 10th grade, it can take us five to six months to get them to buy back into their education. If we can reach them earlier, we’ll have more time to work with students and show them positive outcomes,” Logan said.
The school anticipates about 65 ninth-grade students in the first year, with a goal of having 100 in each grade within a few years for a total enrollment of 400, he said. Enrollment is now 225, with 75 seniors, and perhaps a couple of early graduating juniors, graduating at the end of the semester.
Enrollment is open the 2020-21 school year. Ninth-grade will not begin at the school until the 2021-22 school year. Administration expects to break ground on the expansion in July or August, with a building completion date in August 2021. That would allow the school to be open to freshman at the same time the freshmen centers open at both Fort Smith Public Schools high schools – Northside High School and Southside High School.
Because the Future School focuses much of the students’ time on internships, things have taken a big change with the COVID-19 pandemic and all Arkansas schools physically closed and using only alternate at-home learning through the remainder of the school year.
Students are not able to continue their internships for the last two months of the school year, Logan said, but added that the students’ advisors have made the difference in student education during this time.
“Our advisors are proving to be so strong with their 20 students,” he said, adding that each advisor has a group of 20 students who they work with throughout their high school career at Future School. “They have a tight connection with the families and the kids. They are really supporting their education right now and helping them move forward.”
The pandemic has also caused the school to adjust graduation plans. Graduation, which had been scheduled in May, was moved to the first of June, but Logan said they are prepared to adjust if gatherings of over 10 are still not allowed at that time.
“We will reschedule. We will have a physical graduation for these students to celebrate the completion of this stage as well as the next step of life’s journey,” he said.