Board approves 1 of 2 applications for charter schools in Pine Bluff


LITTLE ROCK — The state Board of Education on Thursday denied an application for a proposed open-enrollment charter school in Pine Bluff, but approved another charter school, also in Jefferson County.

• Exalt Academy of Pine Bluff was denied.

• Quest Middle School was approved.

Quest Middle School will be an open-enrollment charter school in Pine Bluff, according to its application. It will serve grades 5-12 with a maximum enrollment of 460 students. No one spoke against the application, which was submitted by Responsive Education Solutions.

Meanwhile, the board voted not to approve a charter for Exalt Academy of Pine Bluff, which was proposed as a school that would admit grades K-3 in its first year and add a grade each year until it was serving grades K-8. The proposed enrollment cap for the school was 540 students.

The applicant was Exalt Education Inc., which manages Little Rock Preparatory Academy, also an open-enrollment charter school.

Exalt CEO Ben Lindquist told the board the proposed Pine Bluff school would target at-risk students and would provide them with 30 percent more learning time than traditional public schools while working to put them on a path to college.

The Pine Bluff School District opposed the application.

“I have not heard anything new that Exalt is doing,” said Rudolph Howard, the district’s deputy superintendent. “We are doing the same thing and have been doing it much longer.”

Lindquist said students need an alternative to the existing public schools in the area.

“We have a community that’s in a state of decline, and what we’re trying to do is initiate a major change to try and turn that around and improve it,” he said.

Some board members said they were concerned that Exalt did not have adequate means to transport students to and from school. Some said they believed it would negatively impact the enrollment of area school districts, including the Dollarway district, which was taken over by the state in June amid financial and administrative problems.

The board also approved two other charter schools proposed by Responsive Education Solutions — Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy in Bentonville and Premier High School of Little Rock.

The Bentonville School will serve grades K-12 and have an enrollment cap of 685 students. The Little Rock school will serve grades 9-12 and have a maximum enrollment of 240 students.

No one spoke against the Bentonville school. Chris Heller, attorney for the Little Rock School District, argued that the Little Rock school would not offer any programs not already available and would interfere with court-ordered desegregation of the public school districts in Pulaski County.

The board denied an application for the proposed KidSmart Cultural Arts Charter in Little Rock. The school was proposed by KidSmart Education Services and would have served students in grades K-8 with an enrollment cap of 300 students. Heller spoke against the application.

An application for a proposed charter school in Lincoln, America’s Charter School, was tabled.