Monday, August 17, 2015

EStem Public Charter Schools to partner with UALR in building new high school

Posted By on Mon, Aug 17, 2015 at 4:13 PM

click to enlarge estem_art.jpg
The leadership at eStem eStem Public Charter Schools and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock today announced a plan to relocate the eStem high school to the university campus, a move that would allow eStem to accommodate more students and make it possible for them to take classes at the college level.

John Bacon, CEO of eStem, said the board of directors of eStem Public Charter Schools, has been planning such an expansion for a while. The eStem system, K-12, has a waiting list of 5,200, Bacon said; they are now at their 1,452 student capacity. Leadership has been wondering "how do we serve more students and reach beyond the downtown financial district?" where the schools are located now, Bacon said. The board wants to expand enrollment to 5,000 by 2025, which it can't do on the current campus.

The Charter Authorizing Panel of the Arkansas Department of Education and the ADE's board will have to approve the plan, which, given the makeup of the boards, seems a cinch. 

Plans call for putting 750 students in grades 11 and 12 in Larson Hall, one of the original buildings on the UALR campus. Renovation of Larson Hall, which eStem will lease, is estimated at around $3.5 million. Another 750 students in grades 9 and 10 would go into a new school to be built at the corner of West 28th and South Fillmore Street on land eStem will purchase from UALR for $50,000. The land is part of a parcel previously offered for the Little Rock Technology Park. Still 

Bacon said he believes the high school will be open in time for the 2017-18 school year. The move would allow the school to expand its lower grades, by moving classes into the building that now houses the high school.

Bacon said the schools will begin to release their financial strategy, which will include using state and federal school dollars and perhaps private "gap" funding, in the next day or so. That might include a bond issue or bank loans. "We want to be self-sustaining," Bacon said.

The schools will  also announce a $1.7 million grant from the Walton Family Foundation for eStem administration, including expanding office space in the Arkansas Capital Commerce Building at Third and River Market Avenue and contracts with people assisting in the planning process.   

By moving the high school to the UALR campus, eStem will offer students "a more comprehensive high school experience," with opportunities to take college courses while in high school, Bacon said. eStem already offers some courses concurrent with UALR and award UALR credits. The high school will likely have to need waivers for its unique curriculum.

eStem also has plans to build other "satellite campuses" that would feed into the high school, Bacon said. The move is a huge one for UALR, which has been losing enrollment, since some eStem graduates may want to continue their education at UALR.

The press release issued by UALR is on the jump.

Little Rock, Ark. (Aug. 17, 2015) — A public charter school plans to build a new high school on the University of Arkansas at Little Rock campus as part of an innovative partnership to improve student opportunities and boost the state’s economy.

Today, leaders of UALR and eStem Public Charter Schools announced an educational collaboration unlike any that currently exists. eStem will move its high school to the UALR campus, where it will construct a building for grades 9 and 10 and lease and renovate one of the university’s original classroom buildings, for grades 11 and 12, which is not in use due to the need for renovation. The partnership was approved today by the Buildings and Grounds Committee of the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees but is still subject to Arkansas State Board of Education approval.

eStem needs space for expanded enrollment. The open-enrollment public charter school, which is tuition free, operates on an enrollment lottery system and has a waiting list of more than 5,200 students. During the first year on campus, the high school is expected to grow from 500 high school students to 725 students, with a long-term goal of 1,500 students.

The partnership will also give eStem’s students opportunities to learn the STEM disciplines — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — from some of the leading scholars in their field. As an additional benefit, 11th- and 12th-graders will have the option of taking college-credit courses and graduating from high school with an associate degree in hand.

Through the partnership, eStem will buy UALR land on 28th Street west of Fair Park Boulevard to construct a 60,000-square-foot building that will serve ninth- and 10th-graders starting in July 2017. In addition, eStem will lease and renovate Larson Hall for the 11th and 12th grades.

Producing more graduates in the STEM disciplines is a state and national priority. Located on one campus, the high school and university will be able to develop seamless curricula for students from elementary school through college.

UALR Chancellor Dr. Joel E. Anderson said the partnership was an extraordinary opportunity for UALR.

“Universities across the country talk about ‘seamless K-12 through college’ education, but almost nobody really succeeds at it. Having a strong high school with a STEM emphasis on campus will make it easier to collaborate in planning, coordinating, and offering a seamless curriculum in each discipline.”

John Bacon, CEO for eStem, said the collaboration is the “most exciting and promising proposal” he has seen for students and the Little Rock community in his 20 years in education.

“For us, the concept of partnering with UALR is just incredible,” Bacon said. “The outcome is limitless. What we’re creating, frankly, is something that doesn’t exist.”

The agreement will not only provide accommodations for more students, but it also will make eStem more accessible to another part of the community, Bacon said.

This collaboration will function as a type of learning laboratory model that could boost STEM education in ways that will benefit other high school systems in the state, said UALR Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Dr. Zulma Toro.

Toro said this project is part of a larger effort to improve STEM education in Arkansas, equipping students with the skills they’ll need to succeed after graduation and providing Arkansas companies the workforce they require to thrive in the state.

“The partnership will afford the eSTEM students many benefits such as decreased time to college degree completion and it will also contribute to UALR’s goal of producing career–ready graduates by providing experiential learning opportunities for UALR’s students not only in the STEM disciplines and Education but also in Social Work, Counseling, Health Sciences, Nursing, Psychology, Audiology and Speech Pathology, and many more,” Toro said.

eStem will pay UALR $50,000 for the property near 28th Street and will sign a long-term lease for Larson Hall, which eStem will renovate at an estimated cost of $3.5 million.

UALR is a metropolitan research university in the heart of Arkansas that provides access to a quality education through flexible learning opportunities. The university currently enrolls about 12,000 students in both face-to-face and fully-online degree programs.

eStem, a non-profit, publicly financed K-12 charter school system formed in 2008, has graduated four classes and has a current enrollment of about 1,500 students. Bacon said the eStem board’s goal is to reach a total enrollment of 5,000 students by 2025.

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