Saturday, July 17, 2010

EDITORIAL >>Base deserves charter school

If a group promoting charter schools in Jacksonville gets its way, Little Rock Air Force Base a year from now could have a charter school for junior high students.

This would be timely indeed as nearby Northwood Middle School faces possible closure for failing to meet state standards.

Former state Rep. Mike Wilson, who brought Lighthouse Academy to Jacksonville last year, told the city council Thursday he’s seeking state approval for the proposed charter school in an empty building on the air base. That should make military families happy, since many children now attend the dilapidated Arnold Drive Elementary School there. The students do very well — they’re usually ranked No. 1 in the Pulaski County Special School District on achievement tests — but they could do much better in a new school for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders with all the modern amenities that military families find elsewhere.

It’s no wonder many military folks move to Cabot and other nearby communities, where their children can attend newer schools. Students in the Pulaski County district must put up with dirty facilities, leaking roofs and other distractions. Many of the schools are on a state watch list.

Did we mention an incompetent school board that has bankrupted the district, stolen from the children while board members enjoyed Broadway shows and fancy lingerie and cheated on their travel expenses?

Is it any wonder that these self-appointed educators are getting more competition from charter schools? Lighthouse Academy is doing a terrific job in Jacksonville. It has just named Ryan Dean, a young educator with Ivy League credentials, as the new principal. There’s a long waiting list. Lighthouse could also run the school on base and fill an obvious need.

There’s been talk of building a new elementary school on the periphery of the air base to replace Arnold Drive and Tolleson elementary schools, which would be wonderful, but that could take several years. So why not put in a charter school on base for the benefit of hundreds of children when the facilities and resources are available now?

Some critics say charter schools will reduce the student population for a possible Jacksonville-area school district, but that, too, could take several years, and there are no guarantees that funds will become available for new schools. Lighthouse Academy fills an immediate need. Several more should open in the area in the next few years because parents want them.

The enthusiasm and resources of their backers, who include the Waltons and other wealthy families, will build more charter schools here all the way through high school. These benefactors want every child to succeed, including military children whose families have sacrificed so much.

Let the Lighthouse Academies be a beacon of hope wherever young people thirst for knowledge.