Community School of the Arts seeks to open performing arts high school

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,588 views 

Community School of the Arts in Fort Smith is taking steps to become the first performing arts high school in Arkansas. If the charter is approved, the school would be open for 9-12 grade students and could open in the fall of 2024.

The program, which is building a 40,000-square-foot Center for Creative Arts on the Arkansas River next to the U.S. Marshals Museum on Riverfront Drive  in Fort Smith, recently filed a letter of intent with the Arkansas Department of Education Charter School Office to submit an application for an open enrollment public charter school to be called the Institute for the Creative Arts.

Recent legislation signed by Gov. Sarah Sanders promoting speciality schools and school choice led the Community School of the Arts to change plans from offering half or partial day opportunities to for high school students wishing to pursue more education in the arts to opening a full-day school for students in ninth through 12th grades, said Dr. Rosilee Russell, founder and executive director.

“We really want to have a high school for the performing arts propelled for specialized education, and we realized a charter school was the way to go. We want to prepare our students for college and beyond,” Walker said, noting the school will offer all the core academic courses students need to graduate.

She said CSA administration would work with the state to substitute some classes for core requirements, giving the example that an acting class could be substituted for a speech class.

“But we of course will have all the core classes, math and science, and AP (advanced placement) courses. Many students gifted in the performing arts are gifted students in all areas. We want to provide what they need,” Russell said.

If the charter is granted, the school would plan to open in the fall of 2024. A public hearing will be held at 6 p.m., May 11 at the U.S. Marshals Museum.

CSA broke ground March 17, 2021, on a new facility near the museum on Riverfront Drive in Fort Smith. The land for the new school, 11 acres north of the museum, was donated to the school by the Robbie Westphal family. Construction of the building is expected to be complete later this year, Russell said, noting that the roof is supposed to go up this week. Administration plans to open the building for community classes in December or January.

The Center was initially planned to house arts programs for young children through high school students and adults. While after school programs are still planned, earlier plans called for the Center to be home to specialized programs for high school students that would operate daily as students attend from regional school districts and receive high school credits at their participating school.

“We realized we have the space for a full-day high school,” Russell said. “Arkansas does not have a performing arts high school. We will be able to offer things they couldn’t get anywhere else.”

She said CSA will continue to work with high schools throughout the area to be a positive thing for the area. Because it will have open enrollment, the school will be open to all high school students in the area, not just Fort Smith.

“To have something like this in Fort Smith should be a very positive thing for Fort Smith,” Russell said.

A public charter receives state funding per student like any other public school.
If the charter is approved, Russell said CSA will begin the search for qualified instructors and teachers.

“We want teachers who are qualified to teach at the college level who want to teach high school students,” she said.

The new 40,000-square-foot building on the river will include high-tech classrooms, teaching studios, art galleries, recording studio, film and digital animation labs, dance studios, culinary labs, black box theater and a 350-seat theater and performance hall. Russell said they have been able to raise more than $10 million for the building’s capital campaign. This year they are working to raise up to $3 million.

“We separate it up in pieces, so it doesn’t seem too overwhelming. Fundraising is continuous,” she said.