By Chad Hunter
Times Record • firstname.lastname@example.org
The founder of what would be Fort Smith’s first charter school explained her vision to the public Thursday night during an informational meeting that attracted a dozen-plus attendees.
The proposed high school, called Future School of Fort Smith, was described by Trish Flanagan as an internship-based institution.
“Our school will be a completely public, tuition-free school,” she said. “Once we get our approval from the (Arkansas Department of Education) in the fall, any student that is ready to go into the 10th grade from Fort Smith and the surrounding area will be able to sign up for school with us.”
Future School of Fort Smith would be Arkansas’ 24th charter school, Flanagan said. Its goal, she added, “is to provide another option for students.” A news release describes the charter school as one that will “embolden students to identify interests, cultivate relevant skills and connect to real world learning.”
“The bar is set very high for us,” Flanagan said. “We’ve been working diligently to understand what the needs are in Fort Smith, the best models to meet those needs and how we’re going to find the right people, train them and roll this out.”
Flanagan said a letter of intent for the charter school was sent to the state this spring.
“This summer, we’re going to be submitting the first draft of our application,” she said. “Then we’re going to be going through a feedback process with the Department of Education.”
The charter will be approved, “if all goes well,” Flanagan said, this winter.
“So in the spring and summer, we’ll be recruiting students,” she said. “Actually, a year form now we’ll be opening our doors.”
Flanagan said she expects 100-150 students for the first 10th grade class in the first year on a first-come, first-served basis. After three years as grades are added, Flanagan estimates the school will have 300-400 students.
Initially, there would be six teachers per 100 students, along with one administrator in a temporary location, Flanagan said. Her hope is to eventually locate at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, a charter school partner.
“I really feel like the community needs a program like this for students to get them out into the work field,” college student Zartashia Javid said. “I love the fact that they’re partnering with UAFS.”
Second-grade teacher Lorrie Woodward, who is also president of the Fort Smith Classroom Teachers’ Association, asked several questions of Flanagan throughout Thursday’s presentation.
“I think charter schools as a whole, if done correctly, are not bad,” Woodward said afterward. “They are made to compliment public schools. But I have a little bit of a problem with the funding being taken away from the public schools and given to them.
“If you’re going to rob Peter to pay Paul, that’s not going to happen.”
Also in attendance was Fort Smith Ward 2 Director Andre Good, who asked what the community can do to help the charter school movement.
“Keep staying engaged and encourage people to be engaged in what we’re doing,” Flanagan said. “Like I said, this is a community project. It doesn’t work if we come in and say we’re doing this alone as an island. We will be looking for letters of support from the community to go with our application.”
Two additional public meetings are scheduled for 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday and July 28 at the Elm Grove Community Center, 1901 N. Greenwood Ave.
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