WEINER, Ark. (KAIT) - After seven years, many of the same local supporters are back and have revamped their push to open an agriculture charter school in Weiner.
The proposed school will be called Arkansas AgSTEM Academy and it will focus on promoting and supporting agricultural education for students in Northeast Arkansas.
Board Members of the ASSET Foundation, a 501 (c) (3) organization, are calling the chance to open an agricultural charter school in Weiner a “robust, hands-on educational experience" and an opportunity to learn more about Arkansas’ largest industry.
“We are looking to give them a competitive edge," board member Abby Jones said.
While logistics are being hashed out, board members held a virtual community meeting for the public’s input Thursday night.
A question was raised about the location of the academy and the group said they are hoping to utilize the former Weiner High School building. The building is on a campus that has served as an elementary school for the Harrisburg School District.
“There’s a process through the state where you can request to use those facilities if they are underutilized, which they certainly are," board member Shannon Mirus said.
While other options are being considered, the vacant high school is also ideal because of the available land near the school to help with “project-based learning.”
Board member Carroll Thetford also addressed funding and the basics of how the school would be run.
“Charter school is very similar to funding for public school. We will receive state funding through the state funding formula for each child that attends that’s approximately $7,000 per child for schools for next year,” Thetford said.
He added other than state funding, the charter will be successful through grants, sponsorship and partnerships with local businesses and farmers in the region.
The school will have certified teachers and offer student body clubs and organizations like other public schools.
If approved, the doors to the school won’t open until Fall 2021 and will only have 90 students—Grades 7th through 9th.
The number of students will increase per year until the school year 2025-2026 with a cap of 250 students, expanding from 7th to 12th grade.
Students interested in the school will be able to cross district lines, meaning students in other cities and/or counties who meet the school choice requirements are allowed to attend the charter school. The school will also be free to attend for all students.
ASSET Foundation has also applied for a flexible school calendar.
“As we all know agriculture doesn’t follow the typical academic calendar. With a large emphasis there, we want the flexibility to adjust in a structure that is best for our students," board member, Mary Norris said.
There are a few more steps to be made.
On June 1, they will submit their application to the Arkansas Department of Education.
After review, hearings and the final submission, they will have an answer this fall.
In the end, they say this is something students in this area need and deserve.
“We want to provide a quality education for our children, for our community, for the delta and the state," board member Tisha Westerman said.
If you have questions or would like to learn more, visit the Arkansas AgStem Academy website here.