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A recent decision by one charter school organization to terminate its plan to open a campus at the former Garland School in the Little Rock School District has prompted another charter school operator to pursue the use of the site, pending state approval.

Einstein Charter Schools of New Orleans has notified the Arkansas Department of Education that it will not go through with opening a school in the 2018-19 school year at the former Garland Elementary campus, 3615 W. 25th St.

Kimberly Friedman, a spokesman for the Arkansas Education Department, on Wednesday confirmed receipt of the notice, which followed news reports that the charter organization's board of directors had authorized its interim chief executive officer on April 6 "to terminate all efforts for replication of the school in Arkansas where practicable."

Einstein Charter Schools had received approval in 2017 from both the Arkansas Charter Authorizing Panel and the state's Board of Education to establish a campus -- its first outside Louisiana -- that would serve kindergarten-through-eighth-graders, starting with kindergarten through third grades and adding additional grades over time.

The charter school leaders planned to rent the former Garland School that had been all but abandoned by the Little Rock district before the district sold it to KLS Leasing LLC, which was in the midst of making extensive renovations to the building in preparation for the Einstein School.

KLS is a company owned by the Walton Family Foundation of Bentonville, one of the nation's foremost supporters of charter schools.

Kathy Smith, senior program officer for the foundation, said Wednesday that the renovations on the building are continuing "as scheduled for the opening of school in August."

"Friendship Public Charter Schools, which ... was approved to open in Pine Bluff this fall and to open in Little Rock in the fall of 2019, has expressed interest in opening a year early [in Little Rock] and occupying the facility," Smith said, adding that the plan hinges on the state's Charter Authorizing Panel and Board of Education approving an amendment to Friendship's original charter.

At the same September meeting in which the state Board of Education approved the Einstein plan, it accepted the recommendations of the Charter Authorizing Panel for approval of the Friendship Aspire Academy-Pine Bluff to open in August 2018 and the Friendship Aspire Academy-Little Rock to serve up to 600 in kindergarten through fifth grades in an undetermined southwest Little Rock location in August 2019.

Both Friendship Aspire campuses were proposed by the Friendship Education Foundation of Washington, D.C., which has been operating charter schools for about 20 years in Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Baton Rouge.

Joe Harris, the national executive director of the nonprofit Friendship Education Foundation charter management organization, said last year that Little Rock is of significant historic importance in the education of minority students.

"Being here would be an honor," Harris told the authorizing panel after the reference to the 1957 racial integration of Little Rock's Central High.

Harris said the the Friendship schools in Arkansas would be liberal-arts schools with rigorous instructional programs designed to move all students to grade-level mastery of their lessons regardless of socioeconomic status and previous achievement.

The schools would operate from 7:30 a.m. to as late as 6 p.m., 190 days per year, compared with the traditional 178-day school year. Classrooms would be equipped with interactive white boards and laptop computers. Bus transportation would be provided for those who live outside walking distance of a school.

Mike Poore, superintendent of the Little Rock district, spoke in opposition last year to the Einstein and Friendship Aspire campuses, along with the ScholarMade Achievement Place -- another new charter school to open later this year -- arguing in part that Little Rock already had too many available elementary seats as the result of traditional, charter, private and home schools and interdistrict school choice.

Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, a Little Rock resident, last year submitted a letter in support of the Friendship Aspire charter school plans, saying that the Friendship schools in Washington have a track record of success, having been placed among the national's top 25 charter schools by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation for student achievement and noted for the closing of academic gaps between student groups.

The Lens, an online nonprofit public-interest organization that focuses on investigative and explanatory journalism in Louisiana, reported earlier this month that Shawn Toranto, chief executive officer for the four-school Einstein system, had resigned, and that Daniel Davis was appointed by the system's board of directors to fill the vacancy.

Toranto's resignation came at a time in which the Einstein system was attempting to resolve an Orleans Parish School District lawsuit that claimed the charter system had failed to provide bus services to elementary pupils. Instead, the charter system offered passes to children and their parents for city transit.

At a meeting last Friday, the charter system's board voted to hire a bus service, according to The Lens article.

At the same meeting the board passed a resolution authorizing Davis to "terminate all efforts for replication of the school in Arkansas where practicable."

Alexandra Boyd, director of charter schools for the state Education Department, said Wednesday that the Einstein system had not yet enrolled any students for the upcoming 2018-19 school year. She did not know if the school organization had plans to contact parents who had shown interest in the school.

Metro on 04/19/2018

Print Headline: 2nd LR charter looks at using Garland school

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