Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

TOP STORY > >Jacksonville gets only one charter school application

By NANCY DOCKTER
Leader staff writer

Late Tuesday afternoon, it was in question whether Jacksonville has a shot at two charter schools, as had been publicized in recent weeks, or just one. By the 4 p.m. deadline yesterday, only four applications for open-enrollment charter schools statewide had been submitted to the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE), just one for the Jacksonville area.

The ADE had received the application for Lighthouse Academy but not one for Jacksonville Charter Academy, whose planners as of last Friday night gave every indication things were on “go” for making the deadline.

This likely means that those who missed the deadline are out of the running, “unless there is some overwhelming reason that they couldn’t make it by deadline,” said Julie Thompson, director of communications for the ADE.

The board of Lighthouse Academy, which could open next fall, includes George Biggs, director of the Jacksonville Parks and Recreation Department, former Jacksonville Rep. Mike Wilson and others.

The other applications received on time were for Eudora Community Charter School, Little Rock Urban Preparatory Academy for Young Men, and Little Rock Preparatory Academy.

Up to 11 applications were expected, because in June, the ADE had received that many letters of intent to make yesterday’s deadline, creating the potential for a unique situation of too many applicants for the seven openings of 24 total open-enrollment charter schools allowed by state law.

The Jacksonville City Council will vote on a resolution on Thursday to support charter schools in the city.

Consultant Buster Lackey, who had been enlisted by Jacksonville school patrons to head up the effort to create Jacksonville
Charter Academy, could not be reached by deadline to clarify the status of that application.

At a public meeting Friday, at Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church, Lackey had glowingly detailed everything planned for the new school – from school motto and architectural plans for the newly acquired facility, to the college-prep curriculum and arrangements with local police for a campus security officer.

At that point, it looked like anyone unhappy with the public schools in Jacksonville might have two possible charter schools to pin their hopes on – schools with similar names and similar promises of academic excellence and a nurturing learning environment.

The strong interest for an alternative to Jacksonville public education had been evident in the large turnouts to recent meetings convened by the charter school organizers.