Leader Blues

Monday, July 30, 2007

TOP STORY >>Charter school hearing

By HEATHER HARTSELL
Leader staff writer

In light of problems with the Pulaski County Special School District, Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce members are supporting a petition to the Arkansas State Board of Education to operate open-enrollment public charter schools in the community.

The charter school would be operated in connection with the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Science and Arts (ASMSA) in Hot Springs or a stand-alone charter school focused on math, science, economics and the arts, or a combination of both.
A public meeting has been scheduled on the matter for 6 p.m. Aug. 17 at Jacksonville City Hall to assess the community’s interest and explain the charter school concept.

The school’s anticipated opening date would be August 2008.

Public charter schools are public schools of choice that operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools.

“We’re proud of our commitment to education in this community in spite of the problems with PCSSD, and we are anxious to support a proposal which has the promise of helping our kids,” chamber member Mike K. Wilson said.

Wilson spearheaded the proposal and has contacted Luke Gordy, the chairman of the board at the Hot Springs school.

In a letter to Gordy, Wilson writes: “Mayor Tommy Swaim, Jacksonville Education Foundation president Pat Bond, Chamber of Commerce leaders and others are thrilled at the possibility of locating an ASMSA charter school here, and we want your board to know there is broad public support in our city for such an effort, as well as the distinct probability of private financial support.”

A proposed site for the charter school is the old Main Street Furniture location adjacent to the new Nixon Library site and across from First Arkansas Bank and Trust.

The Arkansas Charter School Resource Center of the University of Arkansas is providing assistance for the project.
According to the Arkansas Department of Education Web site, the freedoms given a charter school allow more flexibility to implement creative and innovative programs and policies but are held more accountable for student success.

Arkansas currently has 17 public charter schools operating under contracts detailing the school’s mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment and ways to measure success.

An open-enrollment school is a public charter school run by a governmental entity, an institution of higher learning or a tax-exempt non-sectarian organization. They can also draw students from across district boundaries.

The groups that commonly operate public charter schools include parents, teachers and community leaders, public schools and private entities.

According to ADE, the benefits of public charter schools are: increases the opportunities for learning and access to quality education for all students; creates choice for parents and students within the public school system; provides a system of accountability for results in public education; encourages innovative teaching practices; creates new professional opportunities for teachers; encourages community and parent involvement in public education, and creates competition among public schools and thus simulates improvement.