Consultant suggests solutions to problems eStem charter school created on UA-Little Rock campus | Arkansas Blog

Consultant suggests solutions to problems eStem charter school created on UA-Little Rock campus

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A private consultant has reported on ways to alleviate problems caused by the arrival of the eStem charter high school on the UA-Little Rock campus. The report says neither institution has realized benefits expected from the partnership to date.

.eStem, a privately operated school that uses public tax money combined with support from such sources as the Walton Family Foundation, opened a new high school on the UA-Little Rock campus in the fall of 2017 and problems soon became evident — traffic, unhappiness from college students and faculty about noisy high school students in the library and public spaces, a strain on facilities particularly dining, and parking. The Faculty Senate was unhappy that it wasn't consulted about the understanding that led to the school on campus in the first place. Steps have been taken to alleviate some of the problems this year, but the consultant's report indicate problems remain.

In January, the faculty voted for a resolution calling for a renegotiation of the agreement to include a limit on enrollment and reconsider some use of existing college buildings by the high school. Administrators from both institutions continued to work on issues and they agreed to bring in Boyette Strategic Advisers to come up with a "feasibility enhancement study."

The result is here and it's interesting reading, both as to the road by which the school came to be on campus, the problems and tension that has caused and in recommendations for the future.

There's agreement that key potential benefits to each institution have not been realized — creation of added enrollment at UA-Little Rock thanks to the eStem association and the ability for high school students to earn college credit while in high school



Opportunity to earn college credit was listed as the greatest advantage to being on a college campus by 62 percent of parents. Only 18 percent strongly agreed with the proposition that it would make a student more like to attend UA-Little Rock (and there's some belief that the presence of the high school discourages others from attending the college.)

Among the continuing issues are facilities. eStem created a third lunch period to divide traffic, which has helped some, but overflow of students fills up other student center common areas and the setup seems to have discouraged qualified students from using a separate area to accommodate those whose family income qualifies them for a free or reduced-price lunch.

Because college attendance is staggered throughout the day and evening, the effect of 500 high school students on a daytime attendance of older students of about 2,500 is magnified, the report says.  This has an impact on "campus culture" that will only increase as eStem enrollment increases.

The report said more analysis would be necessary to determine if recent college enrollment declines were related to the presence of eStem, but it said there's no doubt the partnership had produced unseen costs for UA-Little Rock in security, dining and campus upkeep.

The report was blunt about an enrollment benefit from the high school.

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The report said  lack of communication between the institutions has led to misunderstandings. A couple of examples: Students wrongly think their tuition has gone to pay for some building work for eStem. eStem parents have ignored rules on pickup and dropoffs.

Policy is a problem, too. eStem is not being used by education students as a lab because it is a charter school. Among the state rules it may ignore are those requiring certified teachers. College students must do practice teaching under supervision of a licensed teacher. Policy changes may be required to allow high school students to enroll in college courses.

Boyette outlined four potential "scenarios" for the situation. First would be status quo, with continued effort to mitigate points of friction. Second would be constructing a new campus cafeteria and commons area, designation of a portion of open space for high school students and realiging use of college classrooms to accommodate eStem growth. More far-reaching are these, which Boyette said were the recommended courses:

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The report said more dining space is critical given expected high school enrollment growth. It also said more classroom space is critical so that the high school senior class can be segregated from college students. The report also outlines ways the institutions might better collaborate, particularly on academics but also in campus events, athletics and community service.

In the end, the report said, both sides must perceive benefits to have a good partnership. It encourages the institutions to look for benefits beyond financial and enrollment to things that benefit the broader community. But it said UA-Little Rock enrollment must remain a high priority and there should be an understanding with eStem that includes "realistic goals" for enrollment and financial incentives to encourage them.

This report will be a starting place for much more discussion.

I happen to believe an important element will be whether the financial angel behind eStem and other charter schools in Little Rock — the Walton Foundation — will step up to help alleviate the problems eStem has caused or prefer that the money come from a campus struggling with budget cuts, declining enrollment and a non-traditional student body that is both not much favored by the current state higher education funding formula and also not particularly receptive to being dropped into an a noisy high school campus, with eating and parking complications, for continuing education.

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