Fort Smith arts high school one step closer to reality

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 685 views 

Arkansas’ Charter Authorizing Panel approved the charter school application for the Institute for the Creative Arts at its meeting Tuesday (Nov. 14) opening the door for Arkansas’ first performing and visual arts high school to be located in Fort Smith.

The school still has to receive formal approval from the Arkansas Department of Education at its December meeting, scheduled for Dec. 14-15.

The new school will be housed in the Community School of the Arts’ (CSA) new 40,000-square-foot Center for Creative Art building under construction just north of the U.S. Marshals Museum along the Arkansas River.

“I support the charter application for the Institute for Creative Arts. The opportunity to add an additional school model to the community is a value add for families and students in an ever-emerging field in the state,” said Kim Davis, panel board member.

The school plans to open for grades 9-11 in fall 2024 with 200-250 students, said Dr. Rosilee Russell, founder and executive director. The first year, the school won’t have a 12th grade, but that grade will be added the following year when the first year of 11th graders moves up a grade. The goal is to have 350 students the second year, 400 the third and max at 500 in the fourth year, according to the charter application.

Though the school will be located in Fort Smith, the application says it will draw students from Alma, Booneville, Cedarville, Charleston, County Line, Fort Smith, Greenwood, Hackett, Johnson County Westside, Lavaca, Magazine, Mansfield, Mountainburg, Mulberry/Pleasant View, Ozark, Paris, Scranton, Van Buren, Waldron and Westfork school districts.

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.

The new 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.

Dr. Rosilee Russell, CSA founder and executive director, said the institute’s focus now is to start recruiting.

“We still have some things we have to do to get our website up and running. For the next month, we’ll have something on the CSA website asking if they are interested in attending the high school, to click here or something like that,” Russell said.

The institute also will start recruiting instructors, Russell said.

CSA’s new Center for Creative Art building now under construction in downtown Fort Smith is expected to be two thirds of the way finished by the end of May, and CSA classes will begin there then, Russell said. The building is expected to be complete by August in time for school to start, she said.

“We have every reasonable expectation that we can meet that and open (the institute) at our new site,” Russell said.

Rather than being an arts-integration school where the arts are inserted into all subjects as a means of learning that particular subject, the school will be an “immersive arts school where creative students vigorously train to hone their talents to the highest level” with the guidance of master teachers combined with peer collaboration, the institute’s application to be a charter school stated.

The school would be a place where creative students can thrive while preparing for college and careers that are in high demand as well as develop strong study skills that translate into the same type of focus and discipline in core academic subjects, it said.

The overall structure of the school, according to the application, will be similar to that of a college or university with departments called “schools.” Those will include the school of academic studies, the school of music, the school of dance, the school of dramatic arts, the school of culinary arts, the school of art and design, and the school of cinematic arts.

The institute will offer Career and Technical Education pathways. Dr. Jennifer Feeny, the institute’s K-12 consultant and an expert on K-12 education and charter schools, told the charter authorizing panel that in the first year, the institute will offer CTE in advertising and graphic design and Programming and Software that will focus on game design and development. In the second year, the school will offer CTE in Audio/Video Technology, Digital Cinema Productions, Culinary Arts and Radio Broadcasting Technology.

“Each of our schools has a focus, whether it’s dance, theater, AV, so when we looked at what courses we were already planning to offer in terms of schools, we started looking at our CTE courses and the standards aligned with it,” Feeny said. “We wanted to make sure that some things that not every high school in the area was offering. We wanted something that really made us look a little different than your local schools.”