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story.lead_photo.caption LISA Academy West Middle School building at 21 Corporate Hill Drive in Little Rock is shown in this file photo. ( Staton Breidenthal)

The state's Charter Authorizing Panel on Tuesday endorsed proposals to attach the Little Rock Preparatory Academy to the much larger LISA Academy charter system, increasing LISA's three Little Rock campuses to four, one of which will be a more spacious high school.

The proposals, set to go into effect starting with the 2020-21 school year, are subject to final review by the Arkansas Board of Education later this year.

Little Rock Preparatory Academy leaders told the seven-member authorizing panel Tuesday that giving up the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade charter school system -- sponsored by the nonprofit Collegiate Choices organization -- was a difficult decision but was necessary.

"We were experiencing declining enrollment," an emotional Little Rock Preparatory Superintendent Donna Broyles said in response to panel questions about the motive for the changes. "We don't have the resources to take care of our teachers or our students and give them what they deserve, and that is one-to-one Chromebooks and more curriculum."

Broyles also said the kindergarten-through-12th-grade LISA system provides students with a high school program, which has not been part of Little Rock Preparatory and, as a result, is a concern to parents of the school's eighth-graders.

The state charter panel's actions come at a time when the state-controlled Little Rock School District is grappling with myriad high school issues.

Those include the efforts by the district to enhance the academic program at F-graded Hall High at North Hughes and H streets, the expansion of Pinnacle View Middle School into the high school grades 10 through 12, and the August 2020 opening of the new Southwest High -- resulting in the need to redraw attendance-zone lines for high schools districtwide.

No one spoke in opposition to the amendments to the LISA charter at Tuesday's meeting, and there was no mention of the Little Rock district issues or discussion on how the amendments might affect the Little Rock district.

Ivy Pfeffer, deputy commissioner of the state Division of Elementary and Secondary Education and chairman of the authorizing panel, however, complimented LISA leaders for including other schools systems, including the Little Rock School District, in some of its special events.

The 255-pupil Little Rock Preparatory system, which is authorized to serve as many as 432 pupils, opened in the 2009-10 school year. Pupils are at two locations: a primary school at 1616 S. Spring St. and a middle school at 6711 W. Markham St.

The newly endorsed amendments call for LISA Academy to lease the West Markham Street campus from KLS Leasing LLC, which is an arm of the Walton Family Foundation in Bentonville, at a cost of 12% of the school's per-student revenue.

LISA Academy will not retain Little Rock Preparatory Academy's primary school that is on the grounds of the downtown Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.

The small charter school sought curriculum and other kinds of help earlier this year through a memorandum of understanding with LISA Academy, which has a total of seven schools in Little Rock, Sherwood and Springdale.

Little Rock Preparatory and LISA entered into the agreement in anticipation of Little Rock Preparatory surrendering its state charter to operate when the charter expires at the conclusion of this school year, enabling the LISA system to acquire the school. Pupils at Little Rock Preparatory will be offered positions at LISA before the annual spring lottery to fill vacant seats.

The authorizing panel, made up of Arkansas Department of Education employees, as well as others from across the state, specifically approved the transfer of Little Rock Preparatory to the LISA system, approved an increase in the LISA Academy's systemwide enrollment cap by 432 to 3,432, and approved the reconfiguration of grades and new names for LISA's Little Rock campuses.

If there is final approval from the state Education Board, Little Rock Preparatory Academy's current middle school campus in the former Lutheran High School at West Markham and South Hughes streets will become LISA Academy West High School.

The current LISA Academy High School at 23 Corporate Hill Drive will become a seventh- and eighth-grade middle school.

LISA's existing middle school building at 21 Corporate Hill Drive will house sixth-graders only. The LISA Academy-Chenal school serving kindergarten-through-sixth grades at Westhaven Drive and Bowman Road will become LISA Academy West Elementary and would serve kindergarten-through-fifth grades.

LISA Academy Superintendent Fatih Bogrek and Assistant Superintendent Luanne Baroni described for the authorizing panel the charter system's college preparatory program with its emphasis on academic competitions and high school graduation, as well as its increasing diversity in terms of student race and ethnicity, as well as socioeconomically.

In response to questions from authorizing panel member Greg Rogers, Bogrek said the LISA system has the funding necessary to acquire additional pupils and campus.

Baroni said LISA Academy, which has enhanced its administrative staff to better support the recent acquisition of the Springdale campus and now Little Rock Preparatory, is studying some of the extra wraparound services that Little Rock Preparatory provides its pupils. That's being done with an eye toward incorporating them in the LISA program, she said.

Little Rock Preparatory's primary and middle school campuses received D's from the state in last week's release of school letter grades based on 2019 ACT Aspire test results and other factors. The middle school had fallen from a C grade the previous year. The primary school's D grade was unchanged. On the other hand, LISA Academy's three schools in Little Rock earned two C's and a B. Its Sherwood campuses had two A's and a B.

Charles Stewart, a retired Little Rock businessman and a member of Little Rock Preparatory Academy's board of directors since the school's beginning, noted that changes in the school's management organization caused his board to look to LISA Academy

"I was in banking before I retired and went through five different mergers in those organizations," Stewart said." In many instances there is a strength that comes out of that that allows you to do things that as separate entities you are not able to do."

Joining with LISA Academy "helps us to achieve the objectives of providing these kids with a quality education and moving the needle for a lot of children who are challenged and are not getting what they need through the regular system," Stewart added.

LISA Academy expansion proposal

A Section on 10/16/2019

Print Headline: Charter panel favors effort to link Little Rock Prep with LISA Academy

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