(KATV) Little Rock - Charters schools were among those welcoming back students for another school year Monday. They are a divisive topic; some say they hurt traditional schools, while others believe they promote competition. Premier High School is a new charter school in Little Rock and it is on the Arkansas Baptist College campus.
Premier High School is part of the Responsive ED network that has been in Texas for about 30 years. They made history by opening three charter schools in Arkansas Monday. The one in Pine Bluff goes by Quest and charter in Bentonville is called Classical Academy.
Premier High School in Little Rock is open to anyone wanting to get out of the traditional class setting, but they reach out to students considered at risk or behind on school credits.
Dr. Caleb Rose tells students, ""When you complete 10 of these books, you have completed the course."
These students and teachers are pioneers this year. 146 high school students, 9th through 12th grade make up the first class. Lead teacher, Kasey Porchia says, "What we do here is not your traditional public school. The teachers, we are not standing up just lecturing in front of the students. It is a program that is individualized towards their specific needs and what they need in order to catch up."
Eighty-percent of the students work will be done online and they will complete assignments at their own pace. The idea is not to get bored or get left behind.
Porchia says class size is small and teachers spend individual time with each student. Plus, classrooms are divided by grade and gender. "They are already behind so we just want to lessen the distractions as much as possible."
Some students are coming from being home schooled. Others, as they leave district-run schools, state funding follows them. Responsive Ed State Director, Dr. Edwin Strickland explains, "The difference is that as a charter school, we don't receive property tax dollars. So we just get the funding just for those students. We get federal dollars as well."
Dr. Strickland says he isn't anti public schools. "For some parents in certain areas, they don't have but one choice for how they wanted to educate their students so we just want to be part of the solution to give them other options."
Administrators with Premier High School are already in talks to build another facility to hold more students at Arkansas Baptist College. The college President, Dr. Fitz Hill says when a student graduates, they will automatically be given acceptance to the college.
Porchia concludes, "We are pioneers so we are setting history here. We are excited about what we are doing. We are excited helping these kids get to the next level because every child is different, every child learns different. Every child may not make it in other traditional settings so we like what we are bringing to the table."
About Arkansas Charter Schools:
There are 35 Arkansas charter schools operating in 2013-2014. Here is the breakdown. 17 are open-enrollment (3 new this year) and 18 are district conversion (6 new this year).
In Arkansas there are two basic types of public charter schools. A conversion school is a public school converted to a public charter school. Conversion schools can only draw students from with the school district's boundaries.
An open-enrollment school is a public charter school run by a governmental entity, an institution of higher learning or a tax-exempt non-sectarian organization. Open enrollment schools can draw students from across district boundaries. Beyond the basic two types of charters, the concepts put in place by a public charter school are as broad as the imagination.