In the spring of 2016, the Little Rock School District status quo, led by its then superintendent, paraded before a specially called evening meeting of the state Board of Education to fight the proposed expansions of eStem Public Charter Schools and LISA Academy.
His primary arguments? The charter expansions would "cream" the district's "best" students, leaving them with only the "poorest and hardest to educate," "take" the district's resources, and "re-segregate" the district.
Thankfully, the state board prioritized the best interests of students over the self-interests of those willfully misrepresenting adults.
And how well did the then-superintendent's dire predictions hold up against what actually happened?
The Little Rock School District's Free and Reduced Lunch is 71.68 percent. When the apologists were attempting to mislead the state Board it was 80.93 percent. The Little Rock School District, though now the state's second largest, has its highest revenue, not only in its history, but in Arkansas' history.
The Little Rock School District has its highest white student percentage (18.96 percent) and number (4,095) in seven years and its lowest African American percentage (61.35 percent) and number (13,248) in decades. The enrollment gap between white and African American students is the lowest on modern record.
Meanwhile, the dreaded LISA Chenal Elementary in west Little Rock is 13 percent white (LRSD Roberts is 56 percent), eStem High School on the UALR campus is 28 percent white (Central is 32 percent), and eStem East Village K-8 is 24 percent white (Forest Heights STEM K-8 is 28 percent).
Last spring, the latest superintendent, supported by a current state senator, former chairman of the state Board of Education, and former congressman, fought the opening of an open-enrollment public charter school at 25th and Maple, near two Little Rock School District "F" elementary schools.
The charter had already been approved for 2019-20, but when another approved charter chose to back out, the privately renovated former Little Rock School District Garland School was available in one of the most impoverished areas of our city. New elementary seats were not needed, the superintendent said, because there were already too many empty district seats in the area. Evidently, he had failed to review the transcript and video of his predecessor who said that's exactly where charter seats were most needed.
Unlike 2016, the status quo won that day, as the state board deferred to the state-appointed superintendent and his enablers and voted to review the Charter Authorizing Panel's decision to approve the early start. Because of the additional delay in preparing for opening a brand-new school, the charter prudently chose to withdraw its request.
Instead of rolling out the red carpet for a nationally respected, already approved charter management organization--Friendship Public Charter Schools--which generously offered to open one year early in order to serve the "hardest to educate" with three meals a day and transportation--Little Rock leaders once again killed education options for our most vulnerable students and families.
Earlier this year, ScholarMade Achievement Place opened just down the road at Roosevelt and Battery in the historically preserved/renovated former Mitchell School, also near two low-enrollment district "F" schools. The charter was immediately full with a wait list.
In long underserved west Little Rock--the only growing area of the district--over the resistance of two superintendents, parents, grandparents and taxpayers initiated and successfully advocated for the below-market purchase of the former Leisure Arts headquarters and conversion into what is now Pinnacle View Middle School. It opened a sixth grade in a 70,000-square-foot building in 2016, while the adjacent 175,000-square-foot warehouse was converted into a middle school. Today, it is the district's largest (826 students) and highest performing middle school. Fed by Roberts, Fulbright and Terry elementary schools, it is also the district's most diverse--42 percent African American, 43 percent white, 15 percent other.
Since opening, those same parents, grandparents and taxpayers have been insisting that the district open a traditional Little Rock West High School ninth grade in the now-empty 70,000-square-foot building for 2019 then, like Pinnacle View, expand at least a grade a year until it is a full-service high school by 2022.
This should be a no-brainer. Do anything and everything to retain students and families who actually want to remain in the Little Rock School District. Well, not if you office(d) at 810 West Markham. Once again, the Little Rock School District is led by those who fight all education options not under their control, defer to politics which gerrymander and prefer, then refuse to meet longstanding demand of students and families who have greatly benefited the district.
If you were or are in charge of the most historically significant school district in America, accountable to only one person, and you couldn't/wouldn't and/or can't/won't immediately prioritize the best interests of all students over the self-interests of some adults, you do not deserve to be promoted nor retained.
Gary Newton is a taxpayer in the Little Rock School District and CEO of ArkansasLearns.org, the Voice of Business for excellent education options for all students. Follow him @ArkansasLearns.
Editorial on 11/26/2018
Print Headline: Best interests