Little Rock School Superintendent Baker Kurrus
announced on-line last night that the school district was moving ahead on its plans for a middle school in northwest Little Rock with plans no in place to open a sixth grade of what will be a 6-8 grade school on Highway 10 next fall.

The school district, now under control of the state with superintendent decisions ultimately falling to state Education Commissioner Johnny Key, also is forging ahead on plans for a new high school to replace McClellan in Southwest Little Rock, a process that will take five years.

The middle school can be done more quickly because it will move into space formerly occupied by the Leisure Arts publishing firm.

The new school will draw from Fulbright, Terry and Roberts zones. They have been served by Henderson Middle School, which is in academic distress, not the least because it is almost 100 percent made up of low-income students, near all of them black. The parents in the growing, predominantly white and higher income northwestern part of the city have chosen private and charter schools rather than Henderson for their children. Pressure has grown because the Roberts elementary, a product of Kurrus’ time on the school board, has drawn many in the area to the school and they’ve pushed hard for addition of more grades in that part of town. Said Kurrus in his regular column on the school district website:

The reasons to start at this time on these two projects are compelling. The middle school is needed from a purely demographic standpoint. The three elementary zones which will be served have a population of about 38,000 people. The area continues to grow. LRSD has over 2,700 students who live in the Fair and McClellan zones. The cost to refurbish McClellan is estimated to be at least $18,000,000. The size, scope and cost of the SWLR project will be defined through the planning and design process. The ultimate costs of the new projects will be driven by the sizes of the schools and their projected enrollments. Funding will always be a challenge, but LRSD has great resources. If we approach the same efficiency metrics that exist in other districts, we will be able to continue with a phased plan of facilities improvements.

He said the district could proceed financially from existing revenue, thanks in part to planned cost-cutting in other areas.

Supporters of the middle school also want a new high school in that part of town.

For the future: the inevitability of coping with economic and achievement divides as new facilities and students follow the westward growth of the city will much of the older part of the city decays.

The plans firmed up yesterday were first announced in October.