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story.lead_photo.caption Little Rock School District Superintendent Michael Poore talks with Mabelvale Middle School student Dylan Hewing, 12, following a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Southwest High School on Oct. 2, 2017. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

Little Rock Superintendent Mike Poore and his staff are crafting a proposal for closing, consolidating and re-purposing as many as 20 schools in anticipation of the 2020 opening of the new Southwest High and in response to the district's loss of hundreds of students.

In drafting the building plan, Poore and his staff are drawing from responses to the "starter ideas" he offered at community forums in September and from an online, open-ended 16-page survey done in October of parents, students, district employees, business people, elected officials, nonprofit professionals, faith leaders and others.

Those survey responses comprise a 28-page report to Poore in which proposals are praised or criticized or alternatives are offered.

"I love the idea of making Hall High a STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] school that kids from Forest Heights STEM Academy could progress to AFTER 8th grade," one responder for example is quoted as saying. "Moving 8th graders to Hall from Forest Heights, however, is a HORRIBLE idea."

Another responder dealt with questions about what to do with Henderson Middle School.

"Turn Henderson into a sports complex strictly for sixth through eighth grades. We don't have enough basketball courts or baseball fields for kids in these grades. If it's used by the public it will get in bad shape quickly. The gyms can be rented to associations that run tournaments and can partner with the local boys and girls club for inner city youth after school programs."

The comprehensive and districtwide building proposal is expected to be presented by year's end, possibly as soon as the district's Community Advisory Board's next meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Metropolitan Technical Center.

Any proposal must ultimately be submitted to Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key, who acts as the school board in the state-controlled Little Rock district and has the final authority to approve it.

Already there are efforts underway to sway the outcome of the planning effort.

Last week, state Reps. Andy Davis and Jim Sorvillo and Little Rock City Board member Lance Hines sent out a news release calling on Poore and Key to expand Pinnacle View Middle School to include a ninth-grade class. That would be the first high school grade to be offered by a traditional public school district in the northwest part of the city where some residents have repeatedly asked for a high school.

And Grassroots Arkansas, an organization that most recently championed for Little Rock district employees in contract negotiations, has announced plans for a community meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Longley Baptist Church over the potential for neighborhood schools to be closed in southwest Little Rock at a time when the district does not have a locally elected school board.

The approximately 365 responses to the online survey, coordinated by ActionCraft Co. partners Marla Johnson and Ken Hubbell, showed a range of opinions on the different aspects of the school use proposals. About 65 percent of responders identified themselves as parents or guardians of district students. Another 33 percent described themselves as district employees, and 27 percent said they were interested community members.

All 28 pages of responses, as compiled and somewhat summarized by ActionCraft, are available for viewing by clicking on the "Leadership" and "Community Advisory Board Agenda" links on the Little Rock district's website: LRSD.org.

Following are a few representative samples of those comments on the various components of the initial proposals:

SOUTHWEST HIGH SCHOOL

Southwest High School, which is to open in August 2020 and replace J.A. Fair and McClellan high schools, as well as take as many as 300 students from Hall High, generated "positive" comments from survey responders but even more concerns, recommendations and questions, according to survey organizers. Many of those centered on the merging of students from three campuses.

• I am very happy that a state-of-the-art high school is being built in a community that has needed updated facilities for a long time. I like that there are diverse [focuses] as far as tech, the arts, and science.

• I think that this is a great idea to bring a better school to the area but there need to be some type of training for all incoming students prior to them transitioning to this new school to change their mind set so that the school will not be destroyed.

• While new facilities are a great way to draw in students, a new building will not heal internal issues. Also I don't like how it's segregated. Mainly black and brown students being shipped here doesn't sound right. Big beautiful buildings only hide the roots of issues for so long.

• Please ensure that you are well prepared to serve Latino students who may be English as Second Language students also. Culture and language should be represented in what you offer.

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McCLELLAN

The preliminary plan calls for building a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school on the McClellan High site. The new school would likely replace Cloverdale Middle and one or more elementary schools such as Baseline, Watson, Meadowcliff and Wakefield.

• Having grown up in SW Little Rock, I am thrilled to see updated facilities in that area. K-8 schools are a fantastic set-up. This is a wonderful new concept that I am so thankful LRSD is implementing.

• It is a little concerning with much older more mature students being in the same building as younger students.

• Many of these schools already have pockets of discipline issues and parent problems. Placing them in one large population is not educationally or in the best interest of our students.

• K-8 is an excellent and encouraged setting. Use the Forest Heights STEM Academy model to show the older kids working with younger kids in school wide projects like STEM or science fairs. Give older students academic credit for volunteering to tutor younger ones in literacy and math. Little kids look up to older kids and having an environment that is new, clean, and different fosters respect for keeping it that way.

• Merging 2 middle schools (i.e., Cloverdale and another) would be a better use of the facility.

CLOVERDALE, ELEMENTARIES

Responders to the survey were generally supportive of assigning Cloverdale Middle students to a new McClellan, while thoughts on replacing elementary schools in the area were more mixed and included calls for more planning and redrawing elementary school attendance zones to relieve crowding at Wakefield and Watson elementaries.

• Continue to support neighborhood schools by factoring in walkability, geography, and neighborhood safety for students. Continue to support the existence of schools with innovative partnerships/leadership such as Wakefield (dental clinic), Baseline (family support workers).

• Wakefield is a fairly new facility. Why would you consider closing that school down?

• You should look at the elementary schools in terms of how they are performing academically. The lowest schools (D or F) should be considered for closure first.

J.A. FAIR HIGH

The preliminary proposal called for transforming Fair into a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school that would accommodate students from Henderson Middle and various elementary schools such as Romine and David O. Dodd.

• We love the K-8 model and want everyone to have access to it.

• NO! That needs to be a High School only. I think Parkview should go over to J.A. Fair. Parkview building need to be remodel and it also need its only baseball, football and any other sports field.

• I also like the idea that the west Little Rock parents shared about using Fair as a true high school for that side of town. Rezone and send west students there for grades 10-12 and have a 9th grade academy at Pinnacle View.

HENDERSON, DODD

Poore has suggested that the Henderson property be used for something other than a traditional middle school. About 170 survey responders favored using it as the district's administrative headquarters and 142 favored it becoming a sports complex. About 140 favored using Romine as a birth-to-prekindergarten center and 127 favored selling part of the property for development.

• All the plans for Henderson and the elementary schools could be moved into Parkview High School, and they would have everything they need for a middle school both academically and athletically. Parkview could move to J.A. Fair and have everything they need all on campus.

• Centralize all district administration in a single building [Henderson] and reduce the size of administrative staff.

• Romine is in a densely populated residential area and I believe any school in residential area should be salvaged as a school. Schools are the back bone of a community. If population around Romine is increasing, keep it a neighborhood school.

• I know Dodd. It is a great community school but too small. Maybe they could move-in with another school close to them? Dodd could be a Crisis Center.

• Dodd could be a language center for those parents/families that want to learn English and teachers/staff that want to learn another language.

PINNACLE VIEW

District leaders initially suggested creating a small high school in the former office building attached to Pinnacle View Middle. About 150 survey responders thought that had some merit. Another 107 liked the idea of a school that focused on career options and internships. Survey organizers noted that many responders were interested in establishing a traditional high school, or for cooperating with the neighboring Pulaski County Special District to share middle school and high school campuses.

• Where is all the money going to come from for all these grand ideas?

• A birth-to-prekindergarten program would likely be welcomed by a part of town with lots of babies steadily joining the population. Get them started in a public school and they're more likely to stay.

• Unused space could be used as a 5th grade academy for students who filter in from Fulbright, Terry, and Roberts elementaries. Students could change classes which would greatly ease the transition to middle school. This could also help alleviate the elementary overpopulation issue and get students out of trailers with no windows.

BALE, FORMER SOUTHWEST

District leaders suggested pairing the two campuses into separate kindergarten-through-second-grade and third-through-eighth-grade schools, as well as partnerships with the Central Arkansas Library System and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Establishing separate boys' and girls' campuses also was proposed.

A total of 169 of 261 respondents preferred partnership with the university, but some were critical of the university's approach to teacher education programs.

Fewer than 20 percent of respondents approved of the separate gender concept.

DOWNTOWN ELEMENTARIES

District leaders have said there are too many open seats in downtown and east Little Rock elementaries and have proposed converting Rockefeller into a prekindergarten center only.

• I like the idea of expanding birth through pre-kindergarten programs. As many parents work downtown, having their small kids in prekindergarten facilities nearby is an attractive option.

• PLEASE do not divide birth-through-pre-K from K-5th grades! ALL elementary schools should be birth-to-5th (or 8th) grades. The continuity and longevity of learning communities is the "glue" that binds children (and the parents, staff, and volunteers) together.

• Booker and Carver have been successful magnet programs. I would like to see them continued in some format.

• Please don't combine Carver and Booker; they have great strengths as is.

• If Booker and Carver are combined, I hope you keep all the special programs from Carver intact, like Young Astronauts. I like the idea of a stronger STEM/STEAM program and museum partnerships.

• Restructure Washington to make it more appealing to parents.

• Turn Washington into professional development/resource center.

Metro on 11/26/2018

Print Headline: Little Rock School District studying school reuse ideas

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