District partnership proposed to offer public school in northwest Little Rock

Residents in the Little Rock School District's growing northwest sector on Monday proposed partnering with the nearby Pulaski County Special School District to provide a traditional public school option for students in the area.

Mac Bell, a Little Rock district parent, spearheaded a proposal to make the district's new Pinnacle View Middle School a campus for grades six through eight that would serve students throughout west Little Rock and west Pulaski County. Those students would then go together to Pulaski County Special's Robinson Middle and High school campuses for ninth through 12th grades.

The Pinnacle View campus and the Robinson campuses that are on Arkansas 10 are less than 3 miles apart.

Bell's proposal, as well as another from Tom Davenport, were offered at a Monday night forum as alternatives to earlier suggestions from Little Rock Superintendent Mike Poore and his staff for restructuring and streamlining school buildings throughout the district.

Poore and his staff are hosting five community forums in different parts of the city this month to suggest and solicit ideas for combining schools or altering their uses. The next public forum will be at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Bale Elementary, and the final forum will be at 5:30 p.m. Monday at Dunbar Magnet Middle School.

Additionally, people can respond to the facility ideas or present ideas of their own by requesting a survey on the issue. The survey request is on the district's website: lrsd.org.

The planning for restructuring of schools -- including some school closures and consolidations -- comes in advance of the opening of the district's new Southwest High School in August 2020. That new high school for some 2,200 students will replace both McClellan High and J.A. Fair High, leading to the need to identify other uses for those campuses.

Monday's forum was at Pinnacle View Middle School, which is now in its third year of operation on Ranch Road off Arkansas 10. The Pinnacle View property includes an unused former office building that has capacity for as many as 450 students in addition to the 1,200-student capacity at the adjoining middle school. District leaders are compelled to find a use for the office building or, by law, make it available to operators of charter schools, which are public schools run by organizations independent of traditional school systems.

Poore and his staff have suggested using the building for a "New Tech High School" that would be part of a national network of schools centered on instruction through problem-solving and hands-on projects. Another suggestion from district administrators is using the building to offer students the opportunity to take unique high school courses while maintaining their enrollment in their attendance zone schools for some courses and extracurricular activities.

And still another proposal on the table is to establish a small high school that would focus on projects and a mix of classroom and online learning for students who excel in a small school environment.

Bell and Jeff Wood, chairman of the state-controlled district's Community Advisory Board and a parent living in the northwest part of the district, said the partnership meets the district's criteria for evaluating ideas, including improvement of the learning environment, improving student safety, improving the quality of life in the area, responding to requests and needs of parents and saving resources.

Davenport, a speaker at the forum that attracted about 150 adults and was live-streamed on Facebook, acknowledged the legal hurdles that could be encountered in partnering with the Pulaski County Special district that remains a defendant in a long-running federal school desegregation case.

"Our kids want to stay together in high school," he said.

He proposed that the unused office building be used for classes for ninth-graders in the Pinnacle View attendance zone and that area students in grades 10 through 12 be assigned to the Fair High campus that will be vacated for the new Southwest High.

Poore and his staff have proposed converting both the McClellan and Fair high school campuses into schools for grades kindergarten through eight, which could change the uses for Henderson and Cloverdale middle schools, as well as various Little Rock elementary campuses such as Romine, Dodd, Watson, Baseline, Meadowcliff and Wakefield.

For the east part of the district, Poore and his staff have proposed converting Rockefeller Elementary into a campus-wide early childhood school. Elementary children now assigned to Rockefeller could be rezoned to Washington Elementary on South Main Street.

In the central part of the city, Poore and his staff have proposed pairing Bale Elementary with the now vacant W.D. Hamilton Learning Academy, formerly Southwest Middle School, to form an academic village where prekindergarten through second grade would be housed at Bale and the upper elementary grades at Hamilton.

Also proposed is offering separate classes for girls and boys or offering dual-language programs for pupils. Other possibilities include establishing partnership with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's teacher education program or using part of the campus space for a library to be run by the Central Arkansas Library System.

The district is also seeking feedback on ideas for enhancements at Hall High, which is expected to lose some 300 students to the new Southwest High.

Metro on 09/18/2018

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