Low enrollment at the Little Rock School District's Academy for Gifted and Talented children has prompted plans to convert it into a pre-kindergarten center in the 2016-17 school year.
Little Rock School Superintendent Baker Kurrus says the Geyer Springs Gifted and Talented Academy, which serves students up to the 5th grade, had lower-than hoped-for pre-registration numbers for the upcoming school year. But he says the decision to reconfigure was not about the quality of education provided at the school.
“The dedication of the staff was unquestioned. The leadership of the program was good. The program itself was good. The one thing we didn't have were the kids to enroll,” he said.
“That doesn't mean we didn't learn a lot or that we don't have great Gifted and Talented educators. The program itself was sort of a learning experience for everyone. And it was in some ways a very successful program,” said Kurrus, who was appointed superintendent of Little Rock schools by Arkansas Education Comissioner Johnny Key last May. The district has been under state control since January of last year.
Geyer Springs was originally converted into a Gifted and Talented Academy in 2014 as an attempt to concentrate more high-ability learners from throughout the district in classroom settings offering unique curricula like computer science and Latin, with an emphasis on “differentiated learning opportunities in an environment conducive to critical and creative thought processes,” according to the school's brochure.
A school district document on reconfiguration recommendations acquired by KUAR notes that in the 2015-16 school year, enrollment at Geyer Springs was 222. Eighty-nine of the school's 164 students in grades 2 through 5 identified as “Gifted and Talented”. Despite adding nearly 60 pre-K students in the last year, “the enrollment still has not reached the level of expectation for the original program recommended,” the document says.
Kurrus noted that some of the currently enrolled students at Geyer Springs had been grandfathered into the program after having previously attended when it was still a neighborhood elementary school. He says the district plans to retain the Gifted and Talented certified faculty, who would likely be reassigned to different schools.
“The teachers will just go out into schools and take what they learned [at Geyer Springs] and multiply their talents in other schools and other areas,” he said.
Kurrus said the conversion of Geyer Springs was not part of a larger program of restructuring in the district, but did note that other restructuring was planned for Watson and Chicot elementary schools, though he did not elaborate on any specific plans for those schools.
Karen James, director of Early Childhood Programs for the district said maximum possible enrollment at the Geyer Springs site should be close to 250. The center would consist of 7 classes with a total of about140 four-year olds and 5 classes with a total of about 90 three-year olds.
“Based on our experience...this is probably the largest-size of a facility we would want for serving young children for adequate supervision and safety factors and so forth. I don't see going much higher than that is a good idea,” she said.
“We hope we fill it up,” Kurrus said.
Geyer Springs would be the district's fifth center devoted to pre-K education. The others are Chicot, Fair Park, Woodruff and Rockefeller Early Childhood Centers.
James noted that conversions similar to the one being attempted at Geyer Springs were accomplished at Fair Park and Woodruff. She said the current reconfiguration of Geyer Springs would open up space for more K through 5 classes at nearby schools where pre-kindergarten students are to be reassigned. She said students from Wakefield, Wilson, Meadowcliff, Mabelvale and Franklin would be consolidated at Geyer Springs Early Childhood Center.
James said she thought the consolidation of the aforementioned early childhood programs would not likely impact overall district enrollment in pre-K. Kurrus noted, however, that there is a possibility that the consolidation may open up some slots because services would be provided more efficiently.
“We added pre-K seats last year and I don't know that this increases our total capacity. But I think it will allow us to enroll more kids. Even though we had the seats, I don't think we met our enrollment goal last year,” he said.
Last year the district received a federal grant to add pre-K classrooms and about 300 student slots.
The program at Geyer Springs, would receive a large amount of funding from the Arkansas Better Chance program, which gives low-income children access to pre-K by matching state funding with district funding. Last year, the school added 3
James says Arkansas Better Chance provides close to $4,860 per child for early childhood programs.. She says the program serves 1,137 elligible students in the LRSD, providing $5,525,820 annually for pre-K, with 3,683,800 dollars in matching funds coming from the district.