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Letter to State Board Regarding Quest Middle School

Posted By Carol Weisenfelder, Monday, May 05, 2014
This email was sent Monday, May 5, 2014 to each of the members of the State Board of Education regarding the hearing scheduled for May 8, 2014. Hopefully, this will help and inspire others to share their own stories with the Board.

Members of the Board of Education:

We are the proud parents of two excellent students of Middle School age who reside in West Little Rock, in the Pulaski County Special School District. Our children attended Chenal Elementary (which school we love), and when the oldest (Benjamin) graduated from 5th, we enrolled him at Robinson Middle. By mid-term of the first semester, it was obvious that the environment at RMS was not conducive for this particular child’s learning. Other students of our acquaintance were doing fine, but for Ben’s sake, we felt it necessary to withdraw him from RMS and find another route. We cannot afford private school, but Carol works full-time from home and was able to let him learn from online courses for the rest of the 6thgrade.

Meanwhile, we talked to many parents, teachers, and the GT director at Chenal who is familiar with both our children. We learned that Quest Middle School was applying for a charter, but it would be at least a year before it could happen. The GT director at Chenal recommended ARVA (Arkansas Virtual Academy), and we promptly enrolled both children (now 6th and 7th graders) into ARVA. ARVA has an excellent format and curriculum, but because Carol works full time, we have not been able to let the children participate in any ARVA-sponsored field trips or get-togethers. We live rather isolated in the country, and we have felt the children’s need for more socialization, particularly with children their own age.

Thus, we were thrilled to find that you, the Board, had approved the Charter for Quest Middle School and also the change in location, which suits us fine and actually gives the school the opportunity to serve a wider range of students from different income levels. Our children are looking forward to next Fall and re-entering a classroom setting in an environment that is suitable to their personalities and particular needs. More to the point, we are thrilled that there are good options available to those of us who cannot afford private schooling and do not "fit" in the large public school setting.

One other note, that’s very important: the great part about having Middle School children is that they are mature enough to understand the processes of governments. We have shared with Ben and Kathryn the process that a proposed Charter school must go through to be approved, and they have closely watched each decision the Board has made regarding Quest. It has been a great study in government for them, as well as for us. They have asked a great question: "Why would the local School Districts try to keep a Charter School from opening?" An excellent question, one we sincerely hope you consider honestly as you approach the hearing on May 8th. As a family, we are asking you to consistently uphold your excellent decision to approve the location change for Quest Middle School; it is important to Ben and Kathryn and to many others that we have met who are eager to start Quest this Fall.

Thank you for taking the time to read about just two of the thousands of children in Arkansas that the Board serves. You have reason to be proud of the progress that is being made in education in our state, and as parents, we are glad to know that you recognize that every child is different, and the more options that are available, the better we can meet the educational goals for each child. It is our belief that we must be as diverse in our educational offerings, as we are diverse in our society.

In sincere thanks and appreciation for your service,

Jay and Carol Weisenfelder

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The Quest for Quest

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The State Board's decision to affirm the unanimous decision of the Charter Authorizing Panel's approval of Quest was the culmination of over fourteen months of work by parents to provide public secondary education where none exists. After over a year of mobilizing and planning, approval was a long overdue victory for the latest wave of parents seeking excellent public secondary education in their community.

The Responsive Education Solutions' school will open for the 2014-15 school year with grades six through eight and a maximum enrollment of 220. A high school will be added in 2015-16, expanding at least one grade each year thereafter to eventually include grades six through twelve and serve to 490 students.

As an open enrollment public school, admission to Quest is available to all students, no matter their resident school district. While some enrollment preference will be given to "founders" of the school, once enrollment reaches capacity, students will be admitted by lottery.

Further enrollment information will be made available when confirmed. Meanwhile, highly effective potential school leaders, faculty and staff should visit responsiveed.org/careers, where openings for all Responsive Education Solutions' schools are posted.

On November 6, 2012, seven Little Rock School District parents met with leaders of the Arkansas Parent NetworkArkansas Learns and Arkansans for Education Reform Foundation to discuss initial steps in creating an open enrollment public charter middle school in West Little Rock. The gathering was convened by Arkansas Learns and hosted by the Arkansas Public School Resource Center (APSRC) and its executive director, Scott Smith.

Charter schools are free public schools, open to all, which operate independently of traditional public school districts.

The group adjourned highly motivated by a consensus commitment to mobilize parents in support of the effort, while the APSRC gauged interest among the nation's top, performance-based charter management organizations.

The initial meeting was followed by a Town Hall at the Chenal Valley Church of Christ on December 4, 2012 which attracted 78 parents.

By June 24, 2013, the group had grown to over 220 parents when its leaders chose Responsive Education Solutions to create the Quest Middle School of West Little Rock. And on June 27th, ResponsiveEd submitted its Letter of Intent to Apply for an Open-Enrollment Public Charter School.

Supporters were encouraged to distribute and sign petitions in support of creation of the school and write and gather Letters of Support.

On August 27th, a Town Hall Meeting was held from 6:30 to 8:00 pm in the Auditorium of the Pleasant Valley Church of Christ to inform the public about the school. Approximately 80 guests asked questions and learned more about the proposed school from Virginia Perry and Derrick Graves of Responsive Ed and Rachelle Bloser and Pablo Valarezo, parents involved in the initiation of the school.

The Open-enrollment Public Charter School Application, with 306 petition signatures, 18 letters of support, and 222 Action Group members, was completed and submitted well before the Tuesday, September 3rd, 4:00 pm deadline. In addition to the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) Charter School Authorizing Panel, the application was shared with school districts potentially impacted by the proposed charter school.

On Thursday, October 24th, following a presentation by its attorney and associate superintendent, the Little Rock School Board voted unanimously to "not support the application."

On Thursday, November 14th, at 8:30 am in the auditorium of the Arkansas Department of Education, the application was heard by the Charter School Authorizing Panel of the Arkansas Department of Education. Following presentations by the Responsive Ed team (Arkansas Director Dr. Edwin Strickland, Parent Gary Newton, Chief Learning Officer Dr. Alan Wimberley, CEO Chuck Cook) and the Little Rock School District's representative (Associate Superintendent Dennis Glasgow), members of the Panel questioned both the applicants and their opposition.

After around two hours, upon a motion to approve by Dr. Megan Witonski and second by Mike Hernandez, all six Panel members voted in favor of the application.

Then, on Monday, December 16th, the Arkansas State Board of Education, in a 5 - 2 vote, agreed with the Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School Districts' attorneys' request for the Board to hear an appeal of the Panel's unanimous approval.

On January 10, 2014, the State Board afforded twenty minutes for the applicant, Responsive Education Solutions' Chief Counsel Chris Bauman, CEO Chuck Cook, and Chief Learning Officer Dr. Alan Wimberley, and Parents Gary Newton, Rachelle Bloser and Pablo Valarezo.

Twenty minutes were also given to the opposition, represented by Attorneys Chris Heller (Little Rock School District) and Sam Jones (Pulaski County Special School District). Dr. Jerry Guess, the state-appointed superintendent of the state-controlled Pulaski County Special School District, did not participate in the presentation, but was called to answer questions by the board

Following questions, answers and discussion, the board, in a final decision, voted 6 - 2 to affirm the Panel's approval. Quest will begin classes in August.

VIEW APPLICATION

Parents' Presentation of Need to State Board of Education

Gary Newton's Comments to Charter School Authorizing Panel

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Quest Approved, Parents' Presentation of Need to State Board of Education

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Friday, January 10, 2014

Today, January 10th, by a 6 - 2 vote, the State Board of Education affirmed the Charter Authorizing Panel's unanimous approval of the open enrollment public charter application of Responsive Education Solutions' Quest Middle School of West Little Rock.

Members voting for affirmation were Joe Black, Toyce Newton, Alice Mahony, Mireya Reith, Vicki Saviers and Diane Zook. Voting against were Jay Barth and Sam Ledbetter.

Interested, qualified and student-focused potential school leaders, faculty and staff should visit ResponsiveEd.com, where position openings will be posted.

Instructions on open enrollment will be shared when known.

The following are parents' presentations of need to the State Board.

Gary Newton

Chairman Gullett, Members of the State Board, Dr. Kimbrell, I am one of 224 parents seeking public education for our children where none exists.

Because the fate of this application should be decided solely on its merits, here are facts regarding need, supported by the Department’s and other public data.

1. When it opened in 2010, Roberts was the first school built by the Little Rock School District west of I-430 since 1978.

2. At 900 students, it was immediately the largest elementary school in the District.

3. Roberts is the fifth highest performing elementary in the State of Arkansas.

4. Because need already exceeds capacity, PreK was cancelled at Roberts, forcing parents to send their four-year olds out of their attendance zone for their first public school experience.

5. The attendance zone middle school for Roberts is Forest Heights, which is in Zone 3, east of University Avenue.

6. On the Benchmark Exams, of 872 reporting schools in Arkansas, Forest Heights was 850th in Math and 846th in Literacy.

7. According to the Little Rock Police Department, there were 152 incidents at Forest Heights during the ‘11-‘12 school year.

8. Last night, the District’s Board voted 4 - 3 to convert Forest Heights to a K-8 STEM Academy, so next year, Roberts' zoned middle school will be Zone 5’s Henderson Health Science Magnet.

9. Since 2011, Henderson has been designated by the Department as a Needs improvement Priority School, among the 42 lowest performing schools in Arkansas.

10. According to the Little Rock Police Department, there were 75 incidents at Henderson during the ‘11-‘12 school year.

11. Two of seven District middle schools are Needs Improvement Priority Schools.

12. The attendance zone high school for Roberts is Hall, which is in Zone 3, just west of University Avenue.

13. Hall is also a Needs improvement Priority School.

14. According to the Little Rock Police Department, there were 329 incidents at Hall during the ‘11-‘12 school year.

15. Three of five District high schools are Needs Improvement Priority Schools.

16. The District has no plans to build a high school in West Little Rock.

17. Of 106 fifth graders at Roberts last year, 35 remain in the District as sixth graders.

18. Over a two-year period, the District lost 588 students, 504 between the fifth and sixth grades.

19. Over a four-year period, the fifth to sixth grade exodus increased 460%.

20. The District has said construction of a West Little Rock Middle School is contingent upon the results of a just-begun facilities study, followed by a successful millage increase campaign.

21. The District already has the fourth highest millage rate in Arkansas.

22. Of the twenty-one zip codes in Pulaski County, three in West Little Rock account for 23% of the entire county's public school property tax revenue.

23. A 5 mill increase was passed by District voters in May 2000 which funded $190 Million in construction bonds, of which $13.2 Million (6.95%) was used to construct Roberts.

24. The doors to Roberts didn’t open until over a decade after the millage election.

25. In regard to the Proposed Desegregation Settlement Agreement, the Attorney General said he agreed to allow the Joshua Intervenors' attorney to negotiate with the District on the side, because the attorney specifically wanted a ban on construction of a West Little Rock Middle School as a condition for joining the Settlement.

26. Before joining the Settlement, the District Board passed a resolution prioritizing future state facilities funds from the Settlement for Southwest Little Rock and "Basic and Below Basic" students.

27. The District Board president said the resolution was an inducement to get the Joshua Intervenors' attorney to join the Settlement, which he did.

28. Hundreds of West Little Rock students cannot attend the public schools closest to their homes because the state-appointed superintendent of the state-controlled Pulaski County Special School District and Little Rock exempted their districts from school choice.

29. The proposed location of Quest is as close or closer to five of the six County and Little Rock feeder elementary schools located west of I-430 than those schools' currently zoned middle schools.

Today, fourteen months after our work on this charter began, you decide between the wishes of 224 parents and two school districts' attorneys.

May the best interests of students guide your decision.

To share more about need, we have two of our long-time parent leaders, Rachelle Bloser and Pablo Valarezo.

Rachelle Bloser

Four years ago, our child was among the first students at Roberts, now the largest elementary school in the LRSD and fifth highest performing in the state.

Next year, we are supposed to bus her east of University to our zoned middle school, among the 3% lowest performing schools in Arkansas.

Our zoned high school? My alma mater. Just west of University, and now a Needs Improvement Priority School.

In other words, we are expected to leave Arkansas’s fifth best elementary and bus across town so she may attend two of the lowest performing secondary schools in the state. Schools that, according to the Little Rock Police Department, during the 2011-12 school year, had 152 and 329 police incidents, respectively.

Since the Quest application was approved, we’ve gone from bad to worse.
The Little Rock School District now proposes to re-zone us for a middle school, inexplicably called a magnet, which is also a Needs Improvement Priority School.

For four years, like waves of parents before us, we have begged our School Board to provide excellent, accessible public secondary education for our students. But it hasn’t.

No matter how you feel about charters in general or other charters specifically, please look at our issue with fresh eyes. If you vote to overturn the unanimous decision of the Arkansas Department of Education’s senior management, where are we to turn for public secondary education for our students?

And please know, if you affirm the Panel’s decision, the burden for the success of this school will not rest solely with the Department or this Board. We parents, who have come farther than any before us, will not allow Responsive Education Solutions and Quest to be anything less than excellent.

Pablo Valarezo

As you heard, of the 106 fifth graders at Roberts last year, only 35 remain in the District as sixth graders. Friendships forged over the years have been scattered among private schools, home schools, charter schools and other school districts, not because of choice, but because of moving out of the county.

Three of the five parents most involved in the selection of Dr. Suggs as the new Little Rock School District Superintendent are leaders of our charter school effort. One of those parents here today has led former Roberts parents in joining and supporting our zoned middle school’s PTA, even though none of us have children there. Already, that partnership has more than tripled PTA membership and fundraising over last year.

As evidenced by our actions, our parent initiators of Quest believe public education is not either/or, but all.

We are keenly aware that the success or failure of our entire community is contingent upon the success or failure of our school district. That is why we have and will continue to strongly support our district’s new leadership in putting children first.

As our new superintendent has said, "Parents should have the right to send their child to any school they deem best for their child.” As we continue to support his and our District’s work to become "a viable choice," we respectfully ask that you approve our complementary efforts to become an "immediate choice.”

Over the past four years, all our parents have ever sought is fairness. Fairness in education from our public institutions. Then, when that is repeatedly denied, fairness in relief from our state government.

Members, the only hope for our students rests with your empowering our parents. Our institutions have not only failed us, but fight us in providing what is guaranteed by the Arkansas Constitution – "a general, suitable and efficient system of free public schools.” It is now incumbent upon you to adopt "all suitable means to secure to (our) people the advantages and opportunities of education.”

The question of need has not been denied. The issue is, who can be trusted to provide immediate, accessible, excellent public secondary education for our children. The Districts have had decades. Give parents and Responsive Ed seven months.

Thank you for your time, consideration and service. We and our fellow parents look forward to answering any of your questions and/or addressing any of your concerns.

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My Letter to the State Board of Education

Posted By Lora Brown, Monday, December 30, 2013
Updated: Thursday, June 12, 2014

Ladies and Gentleman of the Board,

The fate of Quest Middle School of West Little Rock is now in your hands. As a parent of a West Little Rock elementary student who will be directly affected by your decision, I wanted to share with you why the approval of Quest is important our family.

My husband and I are graduates of the public school system. We are firm supporters of public schools. However, we cannot in good conscience send our child to our zoned public middle school which is performing so poorly. What parent could allow their child to leave the fifth highest-performing elementary school in Arkansas for a middle school which performs among the bottom 2.5 percent of schools in Arkansas in math, and bottom 3 percent in literacy?

It has been suggested that if 300 of the "white, affluent products” of Roberts Elementary would attend Henderson Middle School that its test scores would improve. However, in the same article, it is acknowledged that this and other "failing inner city schools” very likely have some of the "most disengaged, poorest families that have been neglected in supervision and staffing.” This is truly unfortunate and hopefully the LRSD can make changes that will turn those schools around. However, I fail to see how sending our child there will encourage its student and teacher population to suddenly become engaged and attentive. More than likely those who arrive performing above average would see a drop in their performance as classes are usually taught toward the middle.

The data shows there has been a mass exodus of students in the LRSD after elementary school for years, an average of 800 per year (based on the LRSD annual reports). The school district has allowed this to happen. Until these issues are addressed, but most importantly, corrected, it will likely continue. Can it turn around? We certainly hope so and even feel the latest changes proposed are a step in the right direction. However, these changes could take years to turn things around, years our daughter does not have to wait.

I have personally spoken to families who intend to sell their homes in Zone 4 with plans to move to other zones, perhaps even outside the LRSD so their kids will have better middle and high school choices. Others are looking into private schools for their children after they leave Roberts.

The "affluent, white" brush the Roberts parents are painted with isn't accurate. I suggest those who think that go visit Roberts. It's a great school with a diverse student and staff population and I assume the same would be true for Quest Middle School.

Personally, we may be white, but upper class we are not, not even close. I might add that many of our neighbors are not affluent, nor white for that matter. There is an enormous difference between affluent and working middle class. Contrary to popular belief, the cost of private school makes it prohibitive for our family and many others we know. Regardless, I would hope that education is the state board’s focus rather than parent color and ability to pay.

I can assure you, if the new WLR middle school was built already, it would be full, just as Roberts is (overflowing actually). If you build it, they will come. We fully support a new public middle school in WLR and would send our daughter there without hesitation. However, in all likelihood it will be 5+ years before its doors are open.

If there is a proven, experienced group willing to take on the task of a charter middle school to help the parents in WLR, I support that. Choice will make Little Rock more attractive which, in turn, will attract good-paying jobs and well-educated workers now and in the future.

I ask you to please vote to support the unanimous decision of the Authorizing Panel which thoroughly and thoughtfully reviewed the QuestMiddle School application and allow it to proceed.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Lora and William Brown

------------------------------

If you have not contacted the Board yet, I strongly encourage you to do so. It's important for the Board to know how we feel and how their decision affects us.


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Why Quest Middle School of West Little Rock?

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Thursday, December 19, 2013
On November 14th, the Arkansas Department of Education Charter Authorizing Panel, chaired by Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell, and consisting of six members of the Department's senior staff, by a 6-0 vote, unanimously approved the parent-initiated, open enrollment public charter school application of Quest Middle School of West Little Rock.
 
On December 16th, the Arkansas State Board of Education, in a 5-2 vote, agreed with attorneys from the Little Rock School District (LRSD) and Pulaski County Special School District (PCSSD) to review the unanimous decision of the Authorizing Panel.
 
That hearing is set for 9:00 am, Friday, January 10, 2014. It will require a majority of a quorum to overturn the decision of the Authorizing Panel. The Board's decision will be final.
 
Here are indisputable, data-supported facts as to why Quest's application should be approved.
  1. When it opened in 2010, Dr. Don R. Roberts Elementary School was the first elementary school built by the LRSD west of I-430 since 1978.
  2. At 900 students, it was immediately the largest elementary school in the LRSD.
  3. Based on last year's Benchmark Exams, Roberts is the fifth highest performing elementary school in the State of Arkansas.
  4. Because need exceeds capacity, three years after opening, PreK was cancelled at Roberts, forcing parents to send their four-year olds out of their attendance zone for their first public school experience.
  5. There are three elementary and no secondary schools, middle or high, in Zone 4 (Northwest Little Rock) where Roberts is located.
  6. There are three schools - one elementary, one middle and one high - in Zone 5 (West Little Rock).
  7. Since 2011, Zone 5's high school, J.A. Fair, has been designated by the Arkansas Department of Education as a Needs improvement Priority School, among the 42 lowest performing schools in Arkansas. 
  8. Every other Zone in the LRSD has at least double the number of schools of Zones 4 and 5.
  9. The attendance zone middle school for Roberts is Forest Heights, which is in Zone 3, on Evergreen, east of University Avenue.
  10. The distance between Roberts and Forest Heights is 8.1 miles.
  11. On the Benchmark Exams, of 872 reporting schools in Arkansas, Forest Heights was 850th in Math proficiency (lowest 2.5%).
  12. On the Benchmark Exams, of 872 reporting schools in Arkansas, Forest Heights was 846th in Literacy proficiency (lowest 3%).
  13. According to the Little Rock Police Department, there were 152 incidents at Forest Heights during the 2011-12 school year.
  14. If the Little Rock School District converts Forest Heights to a K-8 STEM Academy, as proposed, Roberts' zoned middle school will be Henderson Health Science Magnet.
  15. Henderson, in Zone 5, is 7.4 miles from Roberts.
  16. Since 2011, Henderson has been designated by the Arkansas Department of Education as a Needs improvement Priority School, among the 42 lowest performing schools in Arkansas.
  17. On the Benchmark Exams, of 872 reporting schools in Arkansas, Henderson was 852nd in Math proficiency (lowest 2.3%).
  18. On the Benchmark Exams, of 872 reporting schools in Arkansas, Henderson was 854th in Literacy proficiency (lowest 2%).
  19. According to the Little Rock Police Department, there were 75 incidents at Henderson during the 2011-12 school year.
  20. Since 2011, two of seven LRSD middle schools have been designated by the Arkansas Department of Education as Needs Improvement Priority Schools, among the 42 lowest performing schools in Arkansas.
  21. Four of seven LRSD middle schools are among the lowest performing 41 schools in Arkansas in math.
  22. Four of seven LRSD middle schools are among the lowest performing 31 schools in Arkansas in literacy.
  23. The six of seven LRSD middle schools with capacity, including Mann Stipulation Magnet and Dunbar, are among the bottom 30% performing schools in Arkansas.
  24. All LRSD middle schools, including Pulaski Heights, are among the bottom 50% performing schools in Arkansas.
  25. The attendance zone high school for Roberts is Hall, which is in Zone 3, on H Street, just west of University Avenue.
  26. The distance between Roberts and Hall is 8.3 miles.
  27. Since 2011, Hall has been designated by the Arkansas Department of Education as a Needs improvement Priority School, among the 42 lowest performing schools in Arkansas.
  28. According to the Little Rock Police Department, there were 329 incidents at Hall during the 2011-12 school year.
  29. Since 2011, three of five LRSD high schools have been designated by the Arkansas Department of Education as Needs Improvement Priority Schools, among the 42 lowest performing schools in Arkansas.
  30. Most of the residents of Zone 3, including Edge Hill, The Heights, Hillcrest, Cammack Village, Palisades, Robinwood, Foxcroft, and River Ridge are zoned to attend Central, even though Hall is in Zone 3 and closer to their homes.
  31. LRSD has no plans to build a high school in West Little Rock.
  32. Over half of the school age population in Little Rock is not in the traditional school district.
  33. Of 106 fifth graders at Roberts last year, 35 remain in the Little Rock School District as sixth graders (33%).
  34. Over a two-year period, the LRSD lost 588 students, 504 between the fifth and sixth grades.
  35. Over a four-year period, the fifth to sixth grade exodus increased 460%.
  36. LRSD has said construction of a West Little Rock Middle School is contingent upon the results of a just-begun facilities study, followed by a successful millage increase campaign.
  37. LRSD has the fourth highest millage rate in Arkansas.
  38. Of the twenty-one zip codes in Pulaski County, three in West Little Rock (72211, 72212, 72223) account for 23% of the entire county's public school property tax revenue.
  39. West Little Rock has 100% fewer schools than any other section of Little Rock.
  40. Pulaski Technical College will hold its first-ever millage increase election in March.
  41. The state-appointed superintendent of the state-controlled Pulaski County Special School District has also suggested a millage increase election.
  42. A 5 mill increase was passed by Little Rock School District voters in May 2000 which funded $190,000,000 in construction bonds, of which $13,195,000 (6.95%) was used to construct Roberts.
  43. The doors to Roberts Elementary School didn’t open until over a decade after the millage election.
  44. The Attorney General told the Legislative Council that he agreed to allow the Joshua Intervenors' attorney and LRSD to negotiate on the side, because the Intervenors' attorney wanted a ban on construction of a West Little Rock Middle School as a condition for joining the Proposed Desegregation Settlement.
  45. Before joining the Settlement, the LRSD Board passed a resolution prioritizing future state facilities funds from the Settlement for Southwest Little Rock and "Basic and Below Basic" students.
  46. The LRSD Board president, from Zone 4, said the resolution was an inducement to get the Joshua Intervenors' attorney to join the Settlement, which he did.
  47. Hundreds of West Little Rock students cannot attend the public middle and high schools closest to their homes because the state-appointed superintendent of the state-controlled Pulaski County Special School District (PCSSD) and LRSD exempted their districts from the Public School Choice Act of 2013..
  48. Children of public school district employees may attend schools in their parents' employer district no matter where they live.
  49. Even if LRSD students could attend Joe T. Robinson Middle School, on the Benchmark Exams, of 872 reporting schools in Arkansas, Robinson was 576th in Math proficiency (lowest 34%).
  50. On the Benchmark Exams, of 872 reporting schools in Arkansas, Robinson was 699th in Literacy proficiency (lowest 20%).
  51. The proposed location of Quest (1815 Rahling Road) is as close or closer to five of the six LRSD and PCSSD feeder elementary schools located west of I-430 than those schools' currently zoned middle schools; the sixth, Joe T. Robinson, is on the same campus as its middle school.
  52. LRSD has no plans to build a high school in West Little Rock.
  53. Quest is a tuition-free public school.
  54. Quest would initially serve students in grades 6 - 8, expanding to 6 - 12 by 2018-19.
  55. Quest would be open to all students, no matter their resident school district.
  56. Quest would open in seven months.
  57. Quest would be operated by the nonprofit Responsive Education Solutions of Lewisville, Texas, which operates 65 campuses, including three in Arkansas.
  58. ResponsiveEd is partnering with three school districts in Arkansas to operate their proposed conversion charter schools.
  59. ResponsiveEd has never closed a school because of budgetary issues.
  60. Three of the five parents most responsible for the selection of Dr. Dexter Suggs as the Little Rock School District superintendent are leaders of the Quest Action Group.
  61. One of those parents led other Roberts parents in volunteering  at their zoned middle school, even though their middle school children do not attend there, resulting in more than tripling PTA membership and fundraising over the previous year.
  62. Quest would be autonomous of any school district, but directly accountable to the Arkansas Department of Education and parents with a demonstrated commitment to excellent public education, traditional and charter.

The Little Rock School District did not vote to ask the State Board of Education to review Quest's unanimous approval. Its attorney wrote, and his associate spoke, seeking appeal, while the Board remained silent.

The state-appointed superintendent of the state-controlled Pulaski County Special School District has no board. He unilaterally chose, and his attorney was allowed, to join the LRSD attorneys in seeking the State Board's review, 58 days after the Department's deadline for districts' notice of opposition.

On January 10th, members of the State Board of Education will decide between the interests of 224 parents and two school districts' attorneys.

May the best interests of students guide their decision.

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LRSD Lawyer Logic: One Race, One Economic Level Schools Okay for One Race, One Economic Level

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Friday, November 22, 2013

At his final Little Rock School Board meeting, Zone 2's Dr. Michael Nellums challenged Dr. Suggs' proposal to convert Forest Heights Middle School into a STEM Academy, saying it would turn Forest Heights into a "one-race school."

In one his best moments on the Board, Zone 4's Greg Adams countered, "It's already a one-race school."

Therein lies the issue. By its own actions and/or inactions, the Little Rock School District has allowed to evolve not only "one-race," but "one economic level" schools. At the same time, it rails against charters, demonizing them as "predominately white, low poverty schools."

Here are the demographic facts regarding Little Rock School District and Open Enrollment Public Charter Middle Schools in the District's footprint:

Demographics of Little Rock Public Middle Schools
LRSD %Free/Reduced Lunch%White%Hisp.%Black%Other%Minority
Cloverdale 90% 3% 20% 77% 0% 97%
Dunbar 81% 7% 8% 84% 1% 93%
Forest Heights 85% 9% 4% 85% 2% 91%
Henderson90%5%8%85%2%95%
Mabelvale84%7%12%81%1%93%
Mann61%30%9%56%5%70%
Pulaski Heights44%45%2%50%3%55%
Public Charters
Covenant Keepers87%0%38%62%0%100%
eStem35%43%5%48%5%57%
Lisa Academy35%26%8%41%25%74%
Little Rock Prep68%0%4%93%2%100%

Look at the percentages. One could reasonably argue that five of seven Little Rock School District middle schools are "one race, one economic level" schools.

Only two schools, Pulaski Heights (LRSD) and eStem (Public Charter) come close to actually mirroring the demographics of the City of Little Rock, not the failed demographics of the Little Rock School District (72% FRL, 19% White, 11% Hispanic, 67% Black, 3% Other, 81% Minority), but the actual demographics of our community (18% Persons Below Poverty Level, 49% White, 42% Black, 7% Hispanic, 2% Other). Beyond Black and White, our most multicultural public middle school is Lisa Academy (Public Charter).

Perhaps most telling is that all public middle schools in Little Rock, be they traditional or charter, are majority minority schools.

Also, note that Mann, the Court-ordered, State-funded Stipulation Magnet, intended as a racially balanced school, is 70% minority.

Lisa Academy is the closest public middle school to the proposed location of Quest Middle School of West Little Rock. The Little Rock School District's attorney is seeking an appeal before the State Board of Education of the school's unanimous (6-0) approval by the Charter Authorizing Panel, saying that it "will likely be established as a predominately white, low poverty school which operates to the detriment of both LRSD and PCSSD."

How so? The only Little Rock School District middle schools with a White population above single digits are Pulaski Heights (full) in Hillcrest and Mann (Magnet), on Roosevelt, east of I-30. The remaining middle schools are already from 91% to 97% minority. The middle school projected by District officials to replace Forest Heights as the zoned school of West Little Rock (if the proposed STEM Academy conversion is approved) is only 5% White.

Think it gets better in High School? Think again.

Demographics of Little Rock Public High Schools
LRSD%Free/Reduced Lunch%White %Hisp.%Black %Other %Minority 
Central42%33%4%55%8%67%
Hall77%5%17%77%2%95%
J.A. Fair79%7%8%85%1%93%
McClellan81%3%7%90%1%97%
Parkview49%27%10%57%6%73%
Public Charters      
Covenant Keepers73%1%30%69%0%99%
eStem31%36%7%47%10%64%
Lisa Academy35%26%8%41%25%74%
SIA Tech99%10%2%85%3%90%

Once again, even though all public high schools in the Little Rock School District footprint are majority minority schools, eStem is the public high school which most closely matches the demographics of the community. It didn't get there by fighting its perceived enemies, but by providing excellence to attract students from all cultures, from all economic circumstances, from all parts of our community. While the Little Rock School District has Magnets in name, eStem is a Magnet in action.

When 31 years, $1.2 Billion in State funding, the $5.3 Million paid intervention of those purporting to represent African-American students, and an $870,000 billed-by-the-hour annual legal budget don't work, blame the charters, existing and proposed.

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Statement to Charter Authorizing Panel Supporting Application of Quest Middle School of West Little Rock

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Friday, November 15, 2013

Statement of Gary Newton to Arkansas Department of Education Charter School Authorizing Panel
November 14, 2013

Thank you, Dr. Strickland.

Good morning.

Chairman Kimbrell, Members of the Charter School Authorizing Panel, I’m honored to be here this morning as a parent of two students who are in their eighth year of public education, seven years in three Little Rock School District schools and now four months in eStem Public Charter Middle School.

On behalf of the 306 parents and citizens who signed petitions, the 222 who joined our Action Group, the 18 civic, business and parent leaders who submitted Letters of Support, and those who are with us today, I stand before you today seeking your approval of the parent-initiated, Responsive Education Solutions, open enrollment, public charter application of Quest Middle School of West Little Rock.

Unlike perhaps any charter application in our state’s history, ours was necessitated by a decades-long void of public secondary education in our community. Simply put, our parents seek to provide public education where none exists.

In November of 2012, seven traditional school district parents metto discuss initial steps in creating a charter middle and high school in West Little Rock.

The group adjourned highly motivated to mobilize parents in support of the effort and attract a world-class charter management organization.

The following month, 78 parents convened at a church to hear from the parent initiators of the newly approved Responsive Education Solutions’ Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy in Bentonville.

By June of 2013, our group had grown to over 220 parents when we too chose Responsive Education Solutions to create the Quest Middle School of West Little Rock. In ResponsiveEd, we found that proven, world-class partner to provide immediate, accessible and excellent public secondary education for our children.

While every family’s experience is different, allow me to share ours so you may better understand why we, and our fellow parents, have acted.

In 2005, we moved to Little Rock from Los Angeles for a better life for our children and family.

When lack of capacity at our zoned elementary school denied our twins’ access to PreK in our community, we were blessed to find space and excellence at Fair Park Early Childhood Center in Midtown. There, we also found the economic and cultural diversity our family so values. Fair Park truly reflected our City.

When it came time for Kindergarten, we were legally guaranteed space at our zoned school, though its capacity had been supplemented for years with temporary buildings.

For third grade, ours were among the first students at Dr. Don R. Roberts Elementary School. On the day it opened, Roberts’ 900 students made it the largest elementary school in the Little Rock School District. Based on last year’s benchmark exams, Roberts is also the fifth highest performing elementary school in Arkansas.

This school year, because demand exceeded desks, PreK was cancelled at Roberts. Just as capacity had denied our children access to their zoned school for PreK, now all Roberts parents would have to send their four-year olds out of their attendance zone for their first public school experience.

This year, when it came time for middle school, our only public choices were to bus our children east of University Avenue to our zoned middle school or to Mann Arts & Science Magnet east of I-30 on Roosevelt.

Based on last year’s Benchmark exams, out of 871 schools reporting in Arkansas, our zoned middle school ranked 849th in math and 845th in literacy, the lowest 3% of schools in Arkansas. Mann, a stipulation "magnet,” ranked 624th and 591st, respectively, among the lowest third in the state.

In other words, we were expected to leave Arkansas’s fifth best elementary school and bus across town in order to attend one of the lowest performing schools in the state.

Meanwhile, we were also denied entry to the public middle school closest to our home, Joe T. Robinson in the Pulaski County Special School District, because both Pulaski County and Little Rock exempted their districts from the Public School Choice Act of 2013.

So, when we were finally successful in our third charter school lottery, we acted as we did in moving from Los Angeles, and chose to do what was best for our children and family and enrolled our students downtown, without transportation, at eStem Public Charter Middle School. As with Fair Park seven years earlier, at eStem we have found both excellence and the valued cultural and economic diversity truly reflective of our City.

For three years, like waves of parents before us, we begged our School Board to provide excellent, accessible public secondary education for our students, but it didn’t.

Only when we stopped begging and started acting on the option afforded us by the General Assembly and Governor resulting in the application before you today, did the Board move to acquire property for a middle school in West Little Rock. If land purchase to construction follows the Roberts timeline, a middle school will be ready in West Little Rock in time for our children’s senior year. That said, the board has indicated that any new construction is contingent upon the results of a yet-to-begin facilities study and a millage increase, which has no election date set or guarantee of success.

Just as our perceived competition prompted our Board to act, it is our intention that the quality of Quest Middle School will accelerate construction of new traditional middle and high schools in the community. Just last week, Dr. Guess stood here, before the State Board of Education to recommend that Robinson Middle and High Schools be refurbished as all middle school, and a new high school be built, contingent upon a millage increase. If approved by voters, Little Rock’s and Pulaski County’s three "new” traditional schools would be just 3.3 miles apart. After generations of inaction, we don’t think it a coincidence that Dr. Guess’ proposal, Little Rock’s land purchase, and our hearing today all came within the past three weeks.

Over a recent two-year period, our District lost 588 students. 504 of those left between the fifth and sixth grades. Over a four-year period, the middle school exodus increased 460%. As a result, the vast majority of last year’s Roberts Elementary fifth graders are no longer in traditional public education. Friendships forged over the years have been scattered among private schools, home schools, charter schools and school districts outside of Pulaski County, not because of choice, but because of moving, all because the Board chose not to act upon public, readily accessible census and demographic data.

Three of the five parents most involved in the historic selection of Dr. Dexter Suggs as the new Little Rock School District Superintendent are leaders of our charter school effort. One of those parents has led us and other former Roberts parents in joining and supporting our zoned middle school’s PTA, even though none of us have children there. Already, that partnership has more than tripled PTA membership and fundraising over last year.

As evidenced by our actions, our parent initiators of Quest Middle School believe public education is not either/or, but all.

We are keenly aware that the success or failure of our entire community is contingent upon the success or failure of our school district. That is why we have and will continue to strongly support our district’s new leadership in putting children first.

As our new superintendent has said, "Parents should have the right to send their child to any school they deem best for their child.” As we continue to support his and our District’s work to become "a viable choice," we respectfully ask that you approve our complementary efforts to become an "immediate choice.”

Thank you for your time, consideration and service. My fellow parents and I I look forward to answering any of your questions and/or addressing any of your concerns.

To share more about our proposed academic program, I am pleased to introduce the Chief Learning Officer of Responsive Education Solutions, Dr. Alan Wimberley.

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Transcript of All LRSD Board Discussion on Charter Application of Quest Middle School of West Little Rock

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Thursday, October 24, 2013, 5:30 pm

Following presentations by Little Rock School District Attorney Chris Heller and Associate Superintendent Dennis Glasgow, the following is the transcript of all board discussion on the application of Quest Middle School of West Little Rock.

Mr. Adams: Mr. Glasgow, the Responsive Ed organization, is that a for-profit or nonprofit organization.

Mr. Glasgow: I do not know. I’m assuming it’s for profit, but I don’t know that for sure.

[Note: Only nonprofits may operate charter schools in Arkansas.]

President Curry: So, the district’s recommendation?

Dr. Suggs: It is the district recommendation that we do not support this application, due to the fact that we do not feel that it will provide any above-and-beyond academic qualifications or academic initiatives than what we are initiating in the Little Rock School District.

President Curry: Thank you. Do I have a motion?

Ms. Johnson: I move that we do not accept the Quest application for a charter school.

Rev. McAdoo: Second.

President Curry: Okay, it’s been moved and seconded that we do not accept or approve the application for the Quest school. Questions? Board members? Mr. Adams.

Mr. Adams: I at least want to make a few comments about that. [unintelligible]

Rev. McAdoo: I call for the question.

President Curry: I did.

Rev. McAdoo: I did. I, that’s what I’m sayin’.

[After a two-minute discussion on rules of order, Mr. Adams continued.]

Mr. Adams: Thank you. I appreciate the board’s willingness to allow comment. And I, but I felt like that comment is appropriate. In the past week, I’ve had no more email communication on this issue than any issue in recent memory. And I feel like that the, that those citizens who have been reaching out and advocating deserve some explanation for my vote.

I am going to vote to not support, to agree with the motion, to not support this application. And I think this is one of those situations where we have, a situation where you have people who, with honor and good intent, who disagree and can disagree honorably. And a couple of reasons that I think the explanation needs to be there. One is that, my understanding of the proposal is based on the assumption that, at least from the communication that I have been receiving from concerned citizens, is on the assumption that the present middle schools that we have are not sufficient, and that somebody cannot have a good, quality experience there. And I disagree with that. I’ve had that experience in my own family, and I think there have been hundreds of students in the past several years who have gone through our middle schools, and they are the ones that we celebrate in our high schools being graduating with honor, and most of those students have come through out middle schools. I’m not quite sure why the experience of those students does not seem to have much sway in the consideration in our middle school discussions, but that seems to be the case.

I’m also persuaded that the assumptions that this charter school would be excellent or superior are at least questionable, based on the information Mr. Glasgow gave and based on the research that I have seen over the years that suggest that most charter schools perform equal or a little less than the traditional schools.

The other thing that I would want to comment on is that there is some of communications that I have heard expressed some dismay that we were not moving to try to improve our middle school situation with a sense of urgency, and I would disagree.

I think if we looked at our situation right now, that we see several things. One is that we see that, in our middle schools last year, we initiated some very significant reforms that we are continuing to revise and improve. I think that we see that we are hopefully going to vote tonight to close, to purchase the land that we decided to purchase in April, and we have going to be also encountering this new facilities study so that we know the kind of the school that we need to provide there and all the other facilities around the district and make good decisions.

And we also have two committees right now that are exploring two new schools that would affect our middle school picture if approved. And so I think the idea that we are complacent in the middle school area, I would disagree with vigorously. And I, and for those reasons, that I would support the motion.

President Curry: All right. All in, anyone else? All in…

Rev. McAdoo: Call for question.

President Curry: All in favor?

[The board voted unanimously for the motion.]

Tags:  Charter Application  Little Rock School Board  Quest Middle School  West Little Rock 

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Citizen Comments to Little Rock School Board Regarding Open Enrollment Charter Application of Quest Middle School of West Little Rock

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Wednesday, November 06, 2013

October 24, 2013, 5:30 pm 

Good evening.

Members of the Board and Dr. Suggs, my name is Gary Newton, a parent of two students who benefitted from seven years in three Little Rock School District schools and now three months in eStem Public Charter Middle School.

On behalf the 306 citizens who signed petitions, the 222 who joined our Action Group, and the 18 civic, business and parent leaders who submitted Letters of Support, I come before you tonight seeking your support for the parent-initiated, open enrollment, public charter application of Quest Middle School of West Little Rock. If approved, in the coming school year, this school will provide excellent secondary education where none exists, without regard to attendance zones or school district boundaries.

If you can’t support the application, we respectfully ask that you not oppose it.

Acting on the law afforded all citizens by the State Legislature and Governor, our efforts to create this school were inspired by the initiation of Premier High School of Little Rock on the campus of Arkansas Baptist College and Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy in Bentonville. Our work began in earnest in November of 2012. Even though our efforts have been public since that time, I recognize that you may have questions regarding our support, which have not been answered.

With that in mind, I would ask that we use the remainder of my allotted time to address any of your concerns or answer any of your questions. It's now my understanding that you're not allowed to do that. But I would ask you, if you do have questions in the process and during your deliberation, that you reach out to those in the audience who may be able to provide answers.

Three of the five parents who were most involved in the historic selection of Dr. Suggs as our new superintendent are also leaders of our charter effort. To us, and the vast majority of our parents, public education is not either/or; it’s all.

We also know that the success or failure of our entire community is contingent upon the success or failure of our school district. That is why we have and will continue to strongly support your leadership in putting children first. All we ask is the same consideration.

Parents should have the right to send their child to any school they deem best for their child. As we continue to support your work to become "the best choice," please don't fight our efforts to become an "immediate choice.”

Thank you for your time and service.

Tags:  Application  Charter  Middle School  Quest  School Board  West Little Rock 

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Support Quest Middle School of West Little Rock

Posted By Arkansas Learns, Friday, August 09, 2013

To strengthen our application to the Arkansas Department of Education to create the Quest Middle School of West Little Rock, we need your help in one or more of the following ways:

  1. Attend, invite and bring guests to the Town Hall Meeting on Tuesday, August 27th, at 6:30 pm in the Auditorium of the Pleasant Valley Church of Christ (10900 Rodney Parham Boulevard) (link to ad below);
  2. Print, sign and distribute the attached Petition in support of creating the school (link to Petition below); and/or
  3. Gather Letters of Support from parents, employers and community leaders (e.g. elected officials, etc.) (link to source content below).

When complete, please return Petitions (no matter how many signatures are on the page) and Letters of Support to us by August 27th in one of the following ways:

  1. Scan and email to gnewton@arkansaslearns.org;
  2. Fax to 501.372.3482;
  3. Mail to Arkansas Learns, 400 West Capitol Avenue, Suite 1700, Little Rock, AR 72201-3438; or
  4. Turn in at Town Hall.

All Petitions and Letters of Support must be received by August 27th, so they may accompany our application.

For more information, visit ArkansasLearns.org/Group/QuestMiddleSchoolWLR or contact Gary Newton at gnewton@arkansaslearns.org.

While we have come very far in our effort to bring secondary public education to the citizens of West Little Rock, approval of this school will be a fight to overcome the inevitable objections of the Little Rock School District's attorneys and intervenors.

Quest Middle School of West Little Rock, a tuition-free, open enrollment (no matter one's Zip Code), ResponsiveEd public charter school, will begin with grades six through eight, with plans to expand into a high school. For more information, visit QuestMiddleSchools.com and/or ResponsiveEd.com.

Quest Middle School of West Little Rock Ad

Quest Middle School of West Little Rock Petition

Quest Middle School of West Little Rock Letter of Support Source Content

Tags:  open enrollment  public charter school  ResponsiveEd  tuition-free 

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