Arkansas board OKs changes for charter schools

Board approves increased enrollment, 2nd Little Rock campus

Graduation (Hoang 'Leon' Nguyen/The Republican via AP)
Graduation (Hoang 'Leon' Nguyen/The Republican via AP)

Graduate Arkansas, a dropout recovery charter high school in Little Rock, received state approval Thursday to open a second campus and expand its enrollment cap by more than five-fold for the current 2021-22 school year.

The charter school that had an enrollment cap of 275 can now serve as many as 1,500 students.

In approving the charter school changes, members of the Arkansas Board of Education thanked Graduate Arkansas Superintendent Katie Hatley for her efforts to re-engage students who have dropped out or were on the verge of dropping out of traditional high school programs without acquiring diplomas.

"I really want to sincerely thank you for opening up more opportunities for these students," Education Board member Kathy McFetridge of Springdale told Hatley.

Board Chairwoman Ouida Newton of Leola also said she appreciated the program that "goes above and beyond" to work for students who may "think they don't have a chance in the world" to succeed.

"I love how even in talking about these students -- instead of saying they are at-risk, they are at-promise -- I love that," Newton said.

The newly approved plan allows the existing Graduate Arkansas charter school for 275 students at 6724 Interstate 30 in Little Rock to provide high school instruction to as many as 300 federal Job Corps clients at the Job Corps center at 6900 Scott Hamilton Drive. Additionally, the plan enables Graduate Arkansas to provide primarily online instruction to as many as 925 youths in the juvenile justice system.

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Graduate Arkansas will partner with Cincinnati Charter School Collaborative Vocation Program, which will provide technical training while Graduate Arkansas will provide academics. Job Corps is a federal residential educational and job training program for young adults ages 16 to 24. The state-funded educational program, however, can only serve students up until their 22nd birthdays.

The Education Board's votes Thursday for Graduate Arkansas and for a 300-student increase for a Pulaski County Special School District virtual academy were follow-ups to preliminary approvals given earlier this week by the state's Charter Authorizing Panel.


The Pulaski County Special district's Driven Virtual Academy charter school can grow from 500 to 800 students, the Education Board agreed.

The academy -- a state-approved conversion charter school for kindergarten through 12th grades -- began operations for the first time Monday at its 500-student maximum and with a waiting list, prompting the district to apply for a new enrollment cap.

Rachel Blackwell, digital learning facilitator for the district, has said that the surge in the enrollment in the remote learning program reflects the surge in covid-19 virus cases in the state in recent weeks.

The academy is the only remote learning option in the 12,000-student district, which last year provided a mix of remote and onsite instruction at each of its schools.

In response to questions Thursday, Blackwell said the newly approved 800-student cap largely accommodates the families who want their children to have a public school education away from the traditional classroom and it is about what the school can manage in terms of adequate staffing.


On another matter regarding charter schools and remote instruction, the Education Board on Thursday voted to permit multiple charter schools to temporarily offer remote instruction to their students in the new school year -- contingent on submission by Sept. 1 of their full plans for virtual instruction.

The charter schools that sent in letters of intent to submit remote instruction plans by the first of the month are KIPP Delta, Westwind School for Performing Arts, Premier High School of Springdale, Imboden Area Charter School, Hope Academy of Northwest Arkansas, Haas Hall Academy, Future School of Fort Smith and Academics Plus.

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