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Friday, July 20, 2018, 4:52 p.m.

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Little Rock district planning forums on zone map; new high school in ’20 forcing revamp

By Cynthia Howell

This article was published July 14, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Anticipating the opening of Southwest High School in 2020 and the resulting revisions in attendance zones, Little Rock School District leaders will begin hosting community forums next month on options for systemwide school changes.

Superintendent Mike Poore said he would like to present a plan for changes in citywide school use and grade structure to Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key in late October.

Key acts as the school board in the state-controlled school district.

Poore announced the preliminary plans for five public forums late Thursday at a lengthy meeting of the district's seven-member Community Advisory Board, which also received a report on 2018 student test scores and on $5.15 million in staffing cuts made for the coming school year.

The forums will be held throughout the district. McClellan, J.A. Fair, Pinnacle View Middle, Dunbar Middle and the now vacant Hamilton Learning Academy will likely be the sites for the forums -- the purpose of which is to present options, gather feedback on those options and solicit additional ideas from the public. Poore anticipates that the first session will be at the end of August.

"As Southwest High School opens up in 2020, it starts a positive domino effect that can impact our entire district," Poore told the advisory board, noting the already established plans for assigning McClellan and J.A. Fair high school students, as well as 300 students now assigned to Hall High, to the new high school at Mabelvale Pike and Mann Roads.

"What do you do behind that?" he asked about the fates of the vacant McClellan and Fair campuses.

Poore and his staff have previously talked about demolishing much of the McClellan campus and rebuilding it as a school for grades kindergarten through eight. The combined elementary and middle school would replace Cloverdale Middle School, 6300 Hinkson Road, but no plans have been presented to date on how to fill the elementary grades at such a school.

Poore revealed no details Thursday but said he and his staff will present as many as three options for the community to consider on McClellan, and another three possibilities for repurposing Fair.

"The good thing about Fair is it is a good building. We can actually move on a solution on that immediately in 2020. High school students leave in May and we could open a new thing in August. The McClellan solution will take longer," he said.

"We have to level that building, and it's about a $40 million to $50 million project. We don't have the funding right now. It will be 2022 or 2023 before we can come forward with that solution."

Changes are in store for the northwest, central and east sections of the district as well.

Poore noted that Pinnacle View Middle School, 5701 Ranch Drive off Arkansas 10, will graduate its first class of eighth-graders this coming school year, raising the question about their ninth-grade school assignment.

"What do we do as a next step there?" he asked. "And what do we do with the office building that is part of that campus?"

Parents in the growing northwest part of the city have repeatedly asked for a high school in the Don Roberts Elementary and Pinnacle View Middle schools area. The district was able to open a middle school in 2016 through the purchase and renovation of the former Leisure Arts offices and warehouse complex. He questioned whether ninth grade might be able to stay in the complex or whether a career-technical center might be placed there.

"We have options that we will present to the community and allow them to give plus and minuses," he said.

At the same time, possibilities are being drafted for Hall High School. Poore suggested that there might be stronger ties made between Hall and Forest Heights STEM Academy that serves kindergarten through eighth-=graders.

"Two or three quality options" are also being developed for the Hamilton Learning Academy building -- formerly Southwest Middle School -- that is next to Bale Elementary, just west of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock campus, he said.

And the elementary schools on the district's east side are also under review, in part because the district has more seats than students in those buildings. That's an expense to a district that has cut millions of dollars of costs in recent years in light of student enrollment declines and the end to years of special desegregation aid from the state.

Robert Robinson of the district's human resources office reported to the Community Advisory Committee that the district has cut 251 positions for the coming school year, a savings of $5.15 million. Some of those cuts include 12 assistant principal jobs, 30 classroom teacher positions, 10 school improvement specialists, and two days off the work year of 164 food service workers.

The district also has eliminated one special assistant to the superintendent job -- the result of closing Franklin Elementary last year, as well as the associate superintendent position held by Dan Whitehorn, who is retiring, and two positions in the human resources department, including that of Rhonda Benton, who was the director of the office.

In light of Whitehorn's retirement, Poore said that he intends for Sadie Mitchell, associate superintendent for elementary education, to be promoted to one of two deputy superintendent positions. Marvin Burton will continue as deputy superintendent but will take on the middle school supervision duties from Whitehorn.

As for new staffing for the coming year, the district is seeking a principal for McClellan High and 15 special education teachers, Robinson said.

Jeff Wood is chairman of the district's advisory board. Other members are LaShannon Spencer, Lupita Chavarria-Garcia, Melanie Fox, Larry Clark, Anthony Hampton and Michael Mason.

Metro on 07/14/2018

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