Thursday, September 16, 2010

COMMENTARY>>Charter school plans gain momentum

by Staff Sgt. Nestor Cruz
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Base leaders co-hosted a town hall meeting here Sept. 8 with Lighthouse Academies officials to give families the opportunity to address questions and concerns about the proposed on-base charter school.

More than 60 people attended the meeting to discuss the benefits associated with the new school.

“The town hall meeting was very well received,” said Col. George Coggins, 19th Mission Support Group commander. “Principal Ryan Dean and his staff highlighted the education opportunities Lighthouse offers including curriculum, testing and the ability to adjust teaching styles to be tailored to the students.”

The next town hall meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. October 5 at the base theater.

One question raised by parents was concerning costs of attending the charter school.

“There is no cost because this is a public school funded through the Department of Education,” said Colonel Coggins.

Parents concerned with moving their children from school to school also were curious about mandatory enrollment.

“No one will be forced to go to this school; it’s purely a voluntary opportunity for those who are interested,” Colonel Coggins said. “One of the key things is with this being a public charter school, in the event there is more demand for this school, then by state law they have what is called an ‘open enrollment’ policy.

“What this means is when you have more demand than capacity they go to what is called a ‘lottery system’,” he added. “It’s literally where they take all the names of the people who have applied, build the list and, starting at the top of the list, begin notifying parents that their children have been selected for enrollment.”

Another topic of discussion at the town hall meeting was the general timeline of events for the project.

“We wanted to update folks on where we are in the process,” said Colonel Coggins. “As of now, we have provisional approval by the Arkansas Board of Education allowing Lighthouse to explore expanding its classrooms to an additional campus here on base.”

The next few steps in the process include signing a lease for the facility to Lighthouse Academies after the first of the new year then beginning renovation of the building by March.

The school is planning to begin classes in fall 2011 at the old conference center on Cannon Drive.

“Having the charter school at that location is a great first step. However, we have a longer term vision,” said Colonel Coggins.

The colonel mentioned the creation of a 77-acre educational campus similar to the base joint education center. The campus would be located behind the 19th Medical Group clinic and include a school building, support facilities and sports field.

“The reality is this is bigger than just opening one facility,” Colonel Coggins said. “I think the important message we all need to walk away with is this is not to replace any schools, but this is all about increasing the educational opportunities for military children and children from the local community.”

Community leaders, led by Mike Wilson, a Jacksonville lawyer and former state representative, filed a charter school letter of intent June 24 with the Arkansas Department of Education to amend the school’s charter.

Mr. Wilson’s organization evaluated several charter management organizations and chose Lighthouse Academies based on its curriculum and record. Lighthouse Academies currently operates a charter school for grades kindergarten through 6 in Jacksonville. Lighthouse staff filed a proposal with the Arkansas BOE, asking for approval to amend their existing charter and secure additional classroom space on base.

Charter schools are publicly funded schools that operate outside of the control of a local school district but are still held to the state’s academic standards by the state’s board of education.

For more information on Lighthouse Academies charter schools, visit

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