State approves charter status for Murfreesboro High School
By John Balch
The state Board of Education has approved South Pike County School District’s proposal for Murfreesboro High School to become a conversion charter school, starting next school year.
The state board voted unanimously Monday to approve the proposal after a short presentation by Superintendent Roger Featherston. State board members also approved the conversion charter proposals for five other districts – Blytheville, Jonesboro, Rogers, Texarkana and Warren – during their Monday meeting. The conversion charter status will now have to be approved by the local school board, Featehrston said.
The high school (grades 9-12) was recently approved to become a New Tech Network school and now that the state has approved the conversion charter proposal, the work can begin for what Featherston has described in the past as a “radical change in the delivery system of education” at MHS.
Following local board approval, the district will begin making technology upgrades and purchases. “We will become a 1-to-1 school, meaning that each student will have a device for educational use,” Featherston said Monday. “We will also begin to get our facilities ready to accommodate a few co-taught classes.”
Public charter schools are schools which “operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools. The charter establishing each such school is a performance contract detailing the school’s mission, program, goals, students served, and methods of assessment,” according to the Arkansas Department of Education’s website.
Charters are granted for a period of up to five years, and at the end of the term, the state Board of Education may renew the school’s contract. “Public charter schools are accountable to the state Board of Education to produce positive academic results and adhere to the charter contract. The basic concept of public charter schools is that they exercise increased autonomy in return for this accountability,” according to the website.
New Tech Network is a “non-profit organization that helps high school students gain the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life, college, and the careers of tomorrow,” according to the company’s website. “Our project-based teaching approach engages students with dynamic, rigorous curriculum. Through extensive professional development and hands-on coaching, our teachers evolve from keepers of knowledge to facilitators of rich, relevant learning.”
Along with the approval of the conversion charter and the New Tech status comes approval of grant money to fund the technology, fees and training, and facility additions and updates. Featherston said the district has already been approved for a Science, Technology Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) grant and a conversion charter grant that are expected to total in the $600,000 range.
The projected costs to facilitate the conversion charter and implement the New Tech methods include: technology $200,000; remodeling $150,000; fees/training $420,000; and construction $150,000.
Featherston said he is confident the conversion charter status and implementation of New Tech methods will greatly benefit the school district.
“This will be a great help in implementing the Common Core Standards, as well as better preparing students for college and/or the workplace,” he said. “I believe project-based learning, with the daily use of technology and group work, will expose our students to what is going on in college and in the work world. Our students will be better prepared to compete with students from other areas and better prepared to compete for jobs.”
The change is also expected to improve student relations. “Because of working with other students on various projects, it has been shown that students learn to accept others, depend on others, and become accountable to others,” Featherston said. “Upon becoming a New Tech school, it has shown that the climate of schools has improved.”
Featherston said the district’s teachers can expect plenty of hard work in the near future as the changes start to unfold on campus.
“This will be a real shift in the way things operate for teachers. There will be a lot of training this summer, including a week-long session out of state.”
He added, “Teachers, and their relationship with students, are the most influential part of a school, as far as learning is concerned. After seeing a couple of schools using this system, I believe the teachers will benefit from its use. As with any change, there will be problems, but the rewards will outweigh those problems.”
Following Monday’s state board votes, the total number of Arkansas conversion charter schools increased to 19 for the upcoming school year and raises the number to 15 the number of the state’s schools that will be tied to the New Tech Network.