Parent Summary of West Rock Charter Town Hall Meeting

By Pablo Valarezo

This Town Hall meeting was organized by Gary Newton, who started a non-profit organization called ArkansasLearns. This organization was initially funded by the Walton Family Foundation with the purpose of education reform.
Gary opened the meeting with introductions:

Virginia Walden Ford is a Heritage Foundation visiting fellow who has been involved in the pursuit of charters as an option and a solution to education issues for 18 years. Learn more about Virginia a t

Bethany Culpepper and Cindy Palen, parent leaders of the recently approved Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy K-8 charter in Bentonville, will be sharing their knowledge and experience on how their community and parent leaders came together and got a charter approved. Their website is

Virginia Walden Ford spoke about her history seeking the best education for her kids, who went to everything including public schools, public charter schools, private schools, and some were home schooled. She is now on the board of one Charter School Management Organization called Responsive Ed (

Virginia was part of the 2nd wave of students to integrate into Central High. She advocates the right to speak for your children and has an extensive history of involvement in such efforts. Her advice included:
• Figure out as an individual what is the best option for your child, be it public, private, home, charter.
• Get many signatures supporting the effort (In Bentonville they gathered over 500 signatures)
• Also get letters of support from community leaders, politicians, influential, and high-visibility individuals (In Bentonville they had over 30 letters of support).

Cindy Palen is the mother of 4 school-aged kids. About 18 months ago she listened to Virginia talk about the option of Charter schools and began the efforts to get one in Bentonville. Her recommendations were:
• Begin with lots of research! The Internet provides innumerable resources to educate oneself on what the community’s options are when it comes to education.
• Learn about charter management organization such as Responsive Ed, tour their schools if possible (she went to Dallas to visit one of their Quest schools).
• Learn about the different types of Charter schools that exist (there are schools with focus on Science, Liberal Arts, Classic education, etc)
• Communicate and come to an agreement as a community on what the community needs in a new school.
• As a community, come together and find common mission statement (you can see their in their website)
• Identify volunteer leaders with different set of skills. For example, accounting skills can be very useful in the process.

Bethany Culpepper is the mother of 2 school-aged kids. She also began her efforts with Cindy and helped organize and mobilize the community to achieve their Charter school.
Bethany recommended:
• Have a presence and speak at any community meeting or gathering.
• Gather signatures for a petition
• Gather those letters of support. Basically get as much ammunition as possible.
• Bring as many involved parents as possible to the Board meetings. Their presence alone speaks volumes.
• Bethany also mentioned that a lot is done over the summer so, while many families are away on vacation it’s important to keep the momentum going during those months.

Additional notes:
• It was noted that a new charter school for West LR would only have to be approved by the State Board of Education (and not the Little Rock School District).
• In the new Bentonville school, scheduled to open in Aug 2013, the “enrollment will be capped at 445 students the first year (K-8), growing over the next four years to 685 students (K-12).
• Should the number of applicants be larger than the initial cap, there is a lottery system put in place.
• In many charter schools, if the older sibling is accepted, the younger sibling(s) are automatically accepted as well.
• Out of 5 exemplary schools in Arkansas, 2 are charters – Kipp Delta and Hass Hall Academy
• The initial charter is typically 5 years. After that it needs to be renewed for another period which can be up to 20 years.
• Typically, there are parents that become part of the charter school board (Cindy and Bethany are board members of their new school).
• Although rare, boards have fired non-performing charter mgmt organizations and hired a different management organization.
• No millage required
• No building of schools. Charters go into existing office space typically
• Charter schools open to anyone regardless of class, race or ethnic background
• They have smaller teacher-student ratio
• Most charter school mgmt org are for-profit
• Funding comes the 6K+ that comes with each student
• For additional programs beyond the educational basis, the PTA would have to raise funds for programs/sports

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