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story.lead_photo.caption FILE — This 2015 file photo shows public school buses. (AP Photo/File)

The Arkansas Board of Education on Thursday gave final approval to applications for two new open-enrollment charter schools -- one in Springdale and the other in North Little Rock.

The Premier High School of Springdale and the Westwind School of Performing Arts are scheduled to open in the 2021-22 school year.

The two newly approved campuses will be in addition to the 26 open-enrollment schools currently in place, a majority of those in Pulaski County. The state's soft cap on open-enrollment charter schools is 34.

The Westwind School plan, endorsed last month by the state's Charter Authorizing Panel, calls for serving up to 225 sixth-through-eighth graders in North Little Rock, near Maumelle.

The Timmons Art Foundation -- the operator of a summer arts program for children in Central Arkansas -- is the sponsoring nonprofit organization for the school that will infuse the arts into core academic subjects. Lessons in those core academic subjects will culminate in art products, planners have said.

In response to questions Thursday, foundation founder Theresa Timmons said that the long-term goal of the school is to add ninth through 12th grades.

The school will be at 7318 Windsong Drive in a building that was once a piano gallery and includes a 250-plus seat theater and a commercial kitchen, as well as classroom space on 17 acres in the Crystal Hill area of North Little Rock.

The building will be purchased by Team Summit and leased to the charter school's board, an arrangement that will ultimately require approval from the state education secretary because the Team Summit organization includes a Timmons family member.

The school will provide transportation, starting with one school bus and driver, Timmons said

Students will have Chromebook laptop computers. The school won't have a traditional library but will rely on classroom libraries, access to online sources of literature and weekly trips to the Maumelle library.

Education Board member Fitz Hill of Little Rock enthused about the school, saying he was familiar with the research on which the model is based and with the work of the Timmons foundation. He said the school will fill a gap in arts education in the area.

The focus of the Premier High School of Springdale will be on giving a second chance at graduation to students who have dropped out or are at risk of dropping out of school. The school that is approved to serve as many as 300 ninth-through-12th graders, will be the third Premier High to be opened in the state by Responsive Education Solutions, a Texas-based charter management organization.

Already in operation are the Premier High School of Little Rock that opened in 2013, and Premier High School North Little Rock that opened in 2019.

Responsive Education Solutions also operates the Northwest Classical Academy in Bentonville, the Quest School of West Little Rock that will convert to a classical academy, and it just recently received final state approval to open a kindergarten through 12th grade classical academy in Rogers..

Premier High Schools feature personalized learning and graduation plans that include goal-setting and mastery learning, planners told the Charter Authorizing Panel last month. There is direct instruction between students and educators, as well as independent instruction with assistance from teachers and accelerated technology-based instruction.

Other features of the Premier schools are flexible course scheduling, tutoring, project learning, advisory and college/career coaches, employment internships, extracurricular activities, and character education.

"We want to be the avenue from no-hope to hope," Steve Gast, superintendent of Responsive Education schools in Arkansas, told the charter panel in August about the plan for the Premier High in Springdale.

Also Thursday in regard to charter schools, the Education Board upheld the decision of the charter panel to deny an application for the the Diamond Cut Performing Arts Academy Public Charter School -- which was planned for 600 students in seventh through 12th grades in the former Playtime Pizza restaurant in west Little Rock.

The panel had concluded that the Diamond Cut application, proposed by the Anthony Bland Foundation, was incomplete in its budget and its lack of any requests for waivers of state laws and rules.

The Education Board upheld the panel's approval of a request to increase the 275-student enrollment cap to 1,000 students at the Van Buren School District's River Valley Virtual Academy.

District leaders asked for the higher enrollment cap to accommodate families in the district who are interested in a virtual educational program for their students in this new school year.


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