HATTER: Skeptical of expanding community schools.

The Little Rock School District Board will consider at its next meeting whether to expand its community school model into two new schools, Mabelvale Elementary and Mabelvale Middle School. The district and the city of Little Rock partnered ahead of the 2019-2020 school year to develop an initial group of four schools: Chicot, Stephens, Washington, and Watson elementary schools. Each of the schools offers health clinics (or access to them), extended after care, tutoring, food pantries and more.

Jay Barth, Little Rock’s chief education officer, told the board Thursday that the district has a good chance of receiving $1 million of federal stimulus money, routed through a state agency he declined to name that he says was interested in keeping children safe (so almost certainly the Department of Human Services or its Division of Children and Family Services). The money, $250,000 per school for two years, would go toward paying for a licensed social worker and community school director and developing a school pantry, he said. The district would pledge to use ESSER funds (federal CARES Act money) to fund the third year as part of the application to receive the state stimulus money.

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The board took no action on the matter Thursday. It will vote on whether to green light the application at its June 24 regular meeting. But at least two board members, President Vicki Hatter (Zone 6) and Evelyn Calloway (Zone 3), expressed skepticism and said the entire community school model deserved deeper scrutiny and more community buy-in.

Hatter complained that the community school initiative had been led by the city, not the district. (Barth and Darian Smith, executive director of elementary education, have repeatedly described the effort as an equal partnership.) Hatter said the development of the existing community schools had been top down and that marginalized communities were being “tested” upon. She said the model wasn’t sustainable.

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Calloway said too few people in the district know what the community school model is and said it should be taken to the drawing board.

Barth and Smith both concede that much more community outreach needs to happen, but said it had been challenging to truly canvas neighborhoods amid the pandemic.

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Greg Adams (Zone 8) said the board and city had to start somewhere. They got some input on what the schools should look like, but in five years, there should be “a heck of a lot” more.

Sandrekkia Morning (Zone 2) said that, rather than complaining vaguely about the city and district not sufficiently involving the community, the board needed to provide specific guidance to them about what sort of outreach it’s looking for.

At its next meeting, the board will also begin discussing whether to refer a millage extension to voters later this year and whether to allow remote participation in meetings.

Asked for a report on the district’s potential exit from state control, Superintendent Mike Poore said he thought it was likely that the state would be fully released from state control in July.

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