Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Little Rock School District ready to open new WLR school

Posted By on Tue, Jan 5, 2016 at 12:24 PM

click to enlarge NEW MIDDLE SCHOOLS: Sketch depicts atrium in new middle school in former Leisure Arts facility.
  • NEW MIDDLE SCHOOLS: Sketch depicts atrium in new middle school in former Leisure Arts facility.

Little Rock School Superintendent Baker Kurrus talked this morning about plans to open a new middle school in west Little Rock and to plan for a new high school in Southwest Little Rock.

He offered some more specifics about the previously announced plans to put a new middle school in the former Leisure Arts building on Highway 10, with a sixth grade drawn from the Terry, Fulbright and Roberts elementary zones to open in the fall. Two more grades will be added the next year.

Kurrus talked, too, of planning for a replacement high school in Southwest Little Rock on land previously purchased on Richsmith Lane. It could accommodate 2,700 students, more than the 1,400 now enrolled in McClellan and J.A. Fair High Schools. Another 1,300 area residents go elsewhere. Kurrus said neither existing school is up to current standards, but no decision has been made on whether the new school would replace both campuses.

Kurrus said he still believed the projects can be financed by existing revenue, without a tax increase, in part through other budget cuts and a hoped-for enrollment increase.

Kurrus spoke, too, of the potential for holding students who might otherwise leave the district:

There are 250 kids who are current fifth graders zoned for the WLR middle school. In past years we lost around 175 of them to other schools, he said. He hopes to stem some of that loss, including among those who leave in early years to nail down a spot in a private school. "For example, Fulbright's kindergarten has 132 students. By fifth grade only 66 remain. Imagine the enrollment gains if we can keep more of these students all the way up). This is the secondary benefit that many have not considered. The same type of losses occur at Terry and Roberts."

Kurrus also mentioned today the possibility of converting the former McClellan campus to a middle school, depending on what a future evaluation of the existing Cloverdale school might determine. But that decision is another not yet made.

The district news release:

The Little Rock School District is moving forward with the planning, design and construction of a new middle school in west Little Rock and a new high school in southwest Little Rock. The former board of the Little Rock School District envisioned both projects in the broader context of a millage increase and bond issue. However, LRSD Superintendent Baker Kurrus and administrative staff now believe both projects can be planned, designed, constructed and equipped using existing revenues. Superintendent Kurrus is appointing a committee to choose architects for both projects with their work beginning immediately.

The new west Little Rock middle school will open this fall at the Leisure Arts location for sixth graders with grades 7-8 added in subsequent years. Temporary space for the sixth grade will be provided in the office building while the district begins the process of converting the large warehouse into the permanent middle school facility to accommodate students as they move up. Land and improvements are now under contract for $11,500,000 with a total estimated cost of $15,000,000 to $19,000,000 for the conversion, a new gymnasium, furniture and equipment.

The planning and design phase for the new southwest Little Rock high school will also begin immediately on the $1,372,000 Richsmith Lane property previously purchased with the approval of the former LRSD board of directors. The exact size, scope and cost of the southwest Little Rock high school will be defined through the planning and design process. A large, new high school could have a total cost of around $85 million compared to a cost of $19-31 million to refurbish McClellan High School, and will have the capacity to serve the 2,700 students who live in southwest Little Rock. Currently only 1,400 of those students actually attend the area’s attendance zone high schools, McClellan and J.A. Fair. Another 1,300 area residents choose non-attendance zone schools within and outside of the district. While the facilities at McClellan and Fair are both clean and functional, neither was designed or constructed to meet the needs of 21st century learning environments. Fair is the district’s newest high school facility but it is not up to the standard that exists in surrounding areas, and McClellan is in need of renovation.

Although the district can afford these capital projects, they are undertaken with the knowledge that LRSD must also balance its operating budget by 2017-2018. There are a number of difficult choices ahead as the district focuses on the efficient utilization of current school personnel and facilities. Opportunities for additional substantial savings will also be reviewed in the areas of transportation, administration and scheduling.
These two projects are only the beginning of building brighter futures for all students who attend the Little Rock School District.

2016-17 Enrollment for New West Little Rock Middle School

Current LRSD fifth grade students at Fulbright, Terry and Roberts will automatically be assigned to the new middle school without any action by parents/guardians, unless parents have already requested a magnet or specialty school assignment.

If a parent/guardian from the zone assigned to the new middle school has completed an Optional Enrollment Request Form (“OERF”) to enroll a student at a LRSD magnet/specialty school (Dunbar, Forest Heights STEM, Horace Mann), and no longer wants his/her child to attend the magnet/specialty school, the OERF should be rescinded by the deadline - January 8, 2016. Magnet/specialty school applications may be rescinded January 5-8 by completing the “opt-out log” in person at the Student Registration Office, 501 Sherman St. 

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