Correction: Little Rock School District Board President Greg Adams said at a board meeting Thursday night that he was excited that the Geyer Springs High Achieving Academy will be in an area that needs more attention. This article mischaracterized his statement.
Geyer Springs Elementary School will be transformed into the city’s only solely gifted and talented school beginning this fall, the Little Rock School District Board voted unanimously Thursday.
The board adopted “Option B,” which was one of two alternatives Superintendent Dexter Suggs proposed last month as a compromise to the stiff opposition his initial proposal garnered from the community and board members.
The original plan called for Geyer Springs students who are not identified as gifted to be reassigned next school year to Bale, Franklin or Stephens elementaries.
Under the proposal adopted Thursday, Geyer Springs would eventually serve only grades three through five and employ only those teachers certified as Gifted and Talented educators.
The option would allow all the current kindergarten through fifth-grade Geyer Springs Elementary students to remain at the school until they feed into Dunbar Middle School, which houses a long-standing gifted-education program. Kindergarten and pre-kindergarten classes would be removed from the school in 2014-15; first grade would be removed in 2014-15; and second grade would be removed in 2015-16.
Suggs took the previously proposed Option A - which would have made the academy a third-through-eighth grade facility by 2017-18 - off the table and only requested approval of the second alternative.
When she made the motion to approve the proposal Thursday, Board Member Tara Shephard, who represents Zone 6, proclaimed loudly that “All kids will remain there.” She then repeated the statement a second time, punctuating each word on the board table with her index finger.
Earlier in the discussion, Associate Superintendent of Elementary Education Sadie Mitchell told the board that the seven children who have already registered for next year’s kindergarten class at Geyer Springs will be re-routed to other schools in the area.
Board Member Norma Johnson asked if those students could be given the option of enrolling in one of the district’s magnet facilities. Mitchell responded that open-enrollment was already closed for those schools.
“Is it really their fault?” Johnson asked.
Suggs responded that they were only talking about seven kids and that the district “will accommodate them.”
Initially proposed by Suggs to be named the “Geyer Springs High Ability Academy,” several board members took exception to the name because it inferred that students in other schools were inferior.
“So if you’ve got a Geyer Springs High Ability Academy, are you saying all the other schools will be lower ability?” Board member C.E. McAdoo asked.
Suggs stood firm and said that the name aptly described the instructional theme of the school, which was to teach the gifted and talented curriculum.
After the proposal was approved bearing the original name of “Geyer Springs High Ability Academy,” however, Suggs relented slightly and said that a change could be “considered.”
Board President Greg Adams said he was excited about the district’s future and was especially heartened by the fact that a higher-achieving school would be placed in one of the district’s poorest zones.
Adams smiled broadly after the unanimous approval and asked Shephard if she wanted to comment.
“There is now a huge expectation for that school,” she pronounced loudly. “I repeat, a huge expectation for that school.”
“How big?” Adams pitched.
“A huge expectation,” Shephard returned.
Ultimately, the Geyer Springs academy would house five classes of 25 students in each of the three grades, for 125 children per grade and a total enrollment of 375.
New students applying to the school would have to be identified as gifted and talented and would be selected for the school from among all who apply using a random-selection lottery system known in the district as the “scrambler.”
Geyer Springs is currently labeled as a “priority” school by the state, meaning that its Arkansas Benchmark Exam scores were among the lowest 5 percent in the state. Under state guidelines, districts in which “priority” schools are not restructured or show improvement are in danger of being deemed “academically distressed” systems and become subject to state takeover.