The Little Rock School District Board voted 7-2 to move forward with a plan to align Hall STEAM Magnet High School with nearby Forest Heights STEM Academy. As a K-12, the schools would share a culture and a curriculum framework, district officials told the board.
“We’re talking about providing an opportunity unlike any district of our size to be in the same instructional environment from kindergarten to 12 grade,” Superintendent Mike Poore said.
Eighth graders finishing their time at Forest Heights STEM Academy wouldn’t automatically be enrolled at Hall, but Poore promised that Forest Heights families would have meaningful input into how the schools align.
The board agreed to a three-year commitment to the K-12.
This is the latest attempt to reimagine Hall, which has been beset by enrollment woes for years. This is the first school year that Hall doesn’t have a geographic attendance zone, which is part of the culmination of a long-gestating plan to turn it into a school that specializes in science, technology, arts and math (STEAM). Hall was also reconstituted by the State Board of Education ahead of the 2020-2021 school year, meaning that all the staff was laid off and had to reapply for jobs or find them elsewhere. The recruitment effort around the new STEAM concept didn’t go well. The district decided not to have a ninth grade class at Hall this year.
Both the move to STEAM and the State Board’s vote to reconstitute Hall were inspired by Forest Heights, a K-8 that started in the 2014-15 school year after years of low test scores for Forest Heights Middle School. The middle school was reconstituted ahead of the introduction of the STEM Academy.
Vice-president Leigh Ann Wilson (Zone 4), a parent of a Forest Heights student, voted against the move. She said she didn’t have a clear enough sense of what the K-12 would mean for students. Evelyn Hemphill Calloway (Zone 3) also voted against the plan.
Poore asked the board to make “a little leap of faith.” He said the vote would provide a framework that could kickstart development of the K-12. Deputy Superintendent Jeremy Owoh said the district would create advisory and steering committees to develop the model. Both Poore and Owoh said there would be “staffing efficiencies” and hinted that they would propose a new leadership structure for the schools in an executive session.
Ali Noland (Zone 5) said, “It benefits everyone for Hall to succeed. I don’t think it’s a bad thing we’re looking at a very successful school to help us with Hall.” She also said it would be important to give Forest Heights families a seat at the table to shape the high school.
Board president Vicki Hatter (Zone 6), a parent of a Parkview student, noted that the district had shifted the engineering component of its science magnet program to Hall. She made a successful motion that the district stick with the science and arts magnet at Parkview for at least three years.
Jeff Wood (Zone 9) said he didn’t see the move as using Forest Heights to improve Hall. He saw it as using Forest Heights to effectively build a high school. He implored the district to involve the community more in the planning.
Greg Adams (Zone 8), who was on the board when it was taken over by the state six years ago, said, “We really have an opportunity in the district that I’ve never seen before where we could to have a whole menu, in reality and in perception, of positive high school choices all across the district, each of them offering something different.”
The meeting began at 5:30 p.m. and was still going when I signed off near 12:30 a.m. Friday with the board in executive session. I’ll follow up tomorrow.
UPDATE: Upon the board’s return, Hatter reported that no action was taken, but announced a special board meeting at 5:30 p.m. March 31.