Little Rock Area Public School Stakeholder Group: Mission Creep Part II?

On January 28, 2015, in the same passed motion which replaced the Little Rock School Board with the Commissioner of Education, the State Board of Education, upon an amendment by Jay Barth, called for “…a formal body of parents, students, community and business leaders, reflective of the Little Rock community and philanthropic organizations (to) serve as a Civic Advisory Committee to aid in improving the performance of students in all schools.”

It didn’t.

Instead, the 34-member group, appointed solely by Little Rock Legislators and LRSD superintendents, chose to spend its time, energy and platform fighting future and past decisions of elected and appointed State government.


“On April 14, 2016 Dr. Barth moved, seconded by Ms. Reith, that the Arkansas Department of Education will facilitate the engagement of a research facilitator to review the issues below, with the goal of producing non-binding recommendations that aid the board’s decision-making, inform communication among all stakeholders, and identify opportunities for collaboration and coordination among charter schools and traditional schools. The recommendations should lay the groundwork for a multi function model that can be adapted for use in other areas of the state.

“Before selecting a facilitator, a small (5-7 person) stakeholder group of individuals that represent traditional public schools, open-enrollment charter schools, and the Little Rock community, as a whole shall be formed. The group shall be selected by the Chair of the State Board of Education and the Commissioner based upon recommendations from charter leaders in Pulaski County south of the river, superintendents of the Pulaski County school districts south of the river, State Board of Education members, members of the General Assembly representing Pulaski County south of the river, and city officials south of the river. The stakeholder group should 1) identify data questions; 2) define key terms; and 3) set measurement parameters that must be addressed by the research facilitator in addressing the issues below. The stakeholder group, in collaboration with ADE, should select the research group. The ADE should engage the Office of Innovation for Education to act as a liaison between the research facilitator and the stakeholder group to provide data-informed recommendations. The recommendations shall be non-binding.

“The issues to be addressed by the research facilitators are the following:

  • How every student can have access to a school that is achieving;
  • How schools can best meet the educational needs of a student population markedly diverse in terms of income levels, achievement levels, English language learners, and students with disabilities;
  • How to be most cost effective and fiscally efficient in the delivery of education;
  • How to respond to patterns that students with certain characteristics (in terms of achievement levels, demographics, etc.) are more likely, at present, to seek out open-enrollment charter options;
  • How facilities should be modernized and spread across the area based on the current demographics of the area with an eye to future demographic patterns;
  • How collaboration between traditional public schools and open-enrollment charter educational offerings can maximize the achievement of students and fiscal efficiency of the system of public education south of the river.

“A quarterly report should be provided to the State Board regarding the status of the efforts outlined in this motion. The first quarterly report should reflect the ADE and Office of Innovation for Education’s recommendations on how to
proceed with the study outlined above, including a projected timeline for completion.

“Ms. Zook, Mr. Williams, and Ms. Dean voted no. The final vote was 5-3. The motion carried.”

The fourth bullet above presupposes facts that are not supported. The sixth bullet should read “among,” not “between,” as two traditional school districts and eight open-enrollment public charter schools account for nearly sixty public schools south of the river, where 2/3 of the traditional high schools are in Academic Distress.

In its first meeting (June 6, 2016), the newly appointed seven-member group voted to invite the superintendents of the Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School Districts and the directors of the eight open-enrollment public charter schools to share their perceptions at the group’s next (June 29, 2016) meeting.

In advance of his appearance, the outgoing Little Rock School District superintendent chose to send his March 31, 2016 State Board of Education submission opposing the expansions of eStem Public Charter Schools and LISA Academy. His “new” cover letter offered nothing about the district for which he has been responsible for the past year, but was just another diatribe against public schools not in his control.

So much for collaboration.

In a footnoted response, Arkansas Learns has previously refuted most of the superintendent’s arguments against the charters.

In his advance written response, the Pulaski County Special School District superintendent took a more expansive view of public education in general. His one-page, nine point response, however, also had the requisite swipe at charter schools:

“5. I believe there are at present three major failings in school structure that prevent the State from fulfilling its responsibility.

“6. The first is publically (sic) funded charter schools. I agree with Baker Kurrus. It is impossible for the State to fund two parallel school systems which by their nature will segregate students into two groups — one group with the most difficult to educate; the other with the students easiest to educate.”

The superintendent neglected, however, to mention his continued exemption from School Choice, which limits enrollment to residence, denying LRSD resident students entry and PCSSD resident students exit. The only public school choice available in PCSSD is open-enrollment public charter schools.

While both superintendents rail against “dual education systems” in regard to charters, they are silent in regard to the culpability of their traditional districts:

  • Multi-family residents who live adjacent to Roberts Elementary are denied entry solely because they live in the Pulaski County Special School District;
  • Both LRSD and PCSSD are building/converting two traditional middle schools 2.5 miles apart;
  • New LRSD Middle School students will be double the distance to their zoned high school (Hall) than to their nearest high school (Robinson).

One meeting in, and the Little Rock Area Public School Stakeholder Group is at a crossroads. It can stay true to its original mission and become relevant, perhaps even significant. Or, it can follow the example of the LRSD Civic Advisory Committee and chase the charter bogeymen proffered by superintendents unwilling or unable to collaborate in the best interests of students.

“The stakeholder group should:

  1. identify data questions;
  2. define key terms; and
  3. set measurement parameters that must be addressed by the research facilitator in addressing the issues below (above).

“The stakeholder group, in collaboration with ADE, should select the research group.”

It’s difficult to see how inviting district and charter leaders to share their “perceptions” with the group advances what it was created to do. Let’s hope this will be a brief courtesy detour, and the group will get back and stay on track in its next and future gatherings.

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