The Arkansas Board of Education on Thursday gave final approval to plans for four new conversion charter schools to be opened in the 2014-15 school year in the West Memphis, Pea Ridge, Warren and Fountain Lake school districts.
Conversion charter schools seek to try out new, innovative programs and/or services to improve student achievement. The schools are operated by traditional public school systems in contrast to open-enrollment charter schools that are run by not-for-profit groups.
The conversion schools are:
The Academies of West Memphis, which will serve up to 1,300 of the districts’ 10th-through-12th graders. The school will provide college and career preparation by concentrating elective courses in three academies: Service, Law and Education; Manufacturing, Transportation and Health Science; and Business, Technology, Art and Communications. Students will graduate with a variety of problem-solving, community service and early college experiences.
The Pea Ridge Manufacturing and Business Academy will serve up to 400 11th- and 12th-graders. Students will be able to take academic courses plus receive training and certification for skilled jobs in industry and manufacturing.
Fountain Lake Middle School Cobra Digital Prep Academy will serve up to 500 fifth-through-eighth graders. The school will change its traditional seven-period school day to extended blocks of time in the morning to teach core subjects that are embedded with lessons in keyboarding, character education, music, art and physical education. The last two hours of the school day will be reserved for elective activities.
Warren Middle School, which will serve up to 450 students in sixth through eighth grades. The middle school, which will build on the district’s already operating conversion charter elementary schools, will be structured in a way that grade levels for students will be blurred and students will be grouped and regrouped as they demonstrate proficiency on a set of skills and then move to another set of skills.
Plans for the four conversion schools were initially approved in January by the Charter Authorizing Panel, which is made up of state Department of Education leaders.
The state Education Board accepted the panel’s decisions on the plans with only a few questions about them. The board, as the result of a 2013 change in state law, has the right to review the panel’s decisions on charter plans. The board on its own or at the request of the school planners can conduct its own hearing on a school plan.
The board on Thursday also accepted the panel’s earlier approval of amendments to existing charter schools.
Those included putting LISA Academy in west Little Rock and the LISA Academy-North Little Rock under one charter instead of two. Another charter will enable the KIPP Delta Schools in Helena-West Helena to begin classes at 8 a.m. each day instead of 7:30 a.m.