Tuesday, April 17, 2012

TOP STORY >> Academy touts achievement

Leader staff writer

Phillis Anderson, Lighthouse Academies vice president for the southern region, touted achievements made by the students and staff of the Jacksonville campus despite its high teacher turnover rate of 44 percent.

Anderson said last week that 14 of the 25 teachers at Jacksonville Lighthouse Academy have been employed for one year or longer. That means 11 teachers left the school after a year.

The charter school has also been criticized for frequent changes in leadership. That campus has seen three principals in the three years since it opened in 2009.

Anderson said the school is addressing the high turnover rate. “As much as possible, those things that are within our control. We can’t control if somebody gets (military) orders. We can’t control if somebody moves out of the area. Because we do know that (our teachers) work harder, we do try to reward them,” she said.

At their weekly town hall meeting Friday in the school’s cafeteria, the academy’s scholars chanted, “We will, we will, work hard, get smart” to the tune of Queen’s “We will rock you.”

A class is chosen every week to present information to the rest of the school on a college, and last week’s pick was the University of Miami.

Anderson said the mission of the charter school is to move each student up 1.5 grade levels each academic year. It has done that with 70 percent of the students.

Their scores on the Northwest Evaluation Association exams, which are given to the students twice every year, measure this growth.

The North First Street campus was recently recognized for that progress by the Arkansas Public School Resource Center with the annual $2,500 School Academic Growth Award, which is sponsored through a grant from the Walton Family Foundation.

The school’s Benchmark scores aren’t much better than those of Pulaski County Special School District students. Anderson said the charter school does get students from PCSSD and other districts that may be lagging when they arrive.

She said it is possible that, for some teachers, a year is not enough time to instill the Lighthouse way in those students and bring them up to par.

Any student in the state can enroll at the charter school if there is space. When there are more applications than spaces, then a lottery is held.


Anderson said teachers:

Relocate because they are military spouses.

Relocate for family reasons. Anderson said, “A lot of times, people just make the best decisions for their families. Whatever that may be, it may be closer to home, a shorter day. We just respect the fact that people have to make decisions that are right for their families. Whoever we lose, we’re sorry to lose them and we wish them well.”

Lighthouse provides 160 hours of professional development as opposed to the 60 hours public schools provide and the state requires. Teachers also work eight hours and 10 additional days a year.

– Seek jobs in the Cabot School District because it offers salaries the charter school can’t compete with, although the Lighthouse offers teachers the opportunity to earn merit pay based on student growth each year and is giving about $18,000 in teacher bonuses this year. Anderson said the school also pays at least $1,000 a year per teacher for professional development.

“We feel like that ($1,000) is an investment,” she said.

All certified Lighthouse teachers, excluding administrators, make between $30,000 and $39,000.

Most Cabot teachers, excluding administrators, earn between $40,000 and $60,000.

– Leave because they find the high standards the Lighthouse expects aren’t for them.

– Find jobs elsewhere after they are certified because no one, except a charter school, can hire staff members who have expertise in their fields but haven’t been certified or don’t have previous experience with teaching.

After one year at the charter school, teachers become fully certified, Anderson said. “Sometimes that happens (they leave after that year). But we haven’t had too many incidences of that,” she said.

– Discover teaching doesn’t suit them.

– Are let go because they do not meet Lighthouse standards after one year.

Anderson said, “We have a rigorous teacher selection process. The teachers don’t just come in for an interview. They have to do a model lesson and then we get feedback from the scholars and how they thought the lesson went. If you’re not mission-minded like we are, it’s going to be evident early on.”

She said the school anticipates less than a 5 percent change in its teaching staff and no changes in leadership. Anderson also said six new teachers are joining the school because they will add a ninth grade next year.


Whitfield said teachers are evaluated twice a year. A green teacher is an instructor who is on target concerning the year and a half growth for each student. A yellow teacher is one that is approaching that goal while a red teacher is not meeting Lighthouse standards.

A teacher who is categorized as red twice could be dismissed.

The first time a teacher is designated as red or yellow, administrators work with them to develop an action plan they can follow to become green.

Whitfield also said, “The majority of our staff members have children. It’s a very family-oriented atmosphere. We have a potluck next week for birthdays. We go off to summit every year as a group. You take some people from Arkansas to Chicago, you become close.”

Anderson said, “Sharing a heart for this mission brings people together. When you get the right people on the bus, it’s an amazing ride because everybody realizes that what we’re trying to do is no ordinary thing.

We’re trying to do something extraordinary, what the school systems that have been in place for years have not done. The expectations for our performance are so much. It seems to be so much higher and it also seems to be a much higher level of accountability for us.”

She also said the University of Central Arkansas is placing student teachers at the academy and this is the first time UCA has partnered with a charter school for that.


Anderson expressed the school administration’s gratitude toward the city too.

“I cannot say enough about this community and that is what makes this school so special. This school came about as a result of the desires of the parents of this community to have another option, to have another choice. Parents really are our partners. They make up our board. They’re here every day.

“They are so much a part of who we are. This school couldn’t be what it is without the parents in this community. I think Jacksonville is such a model community. You just don’t see people saying we want a sound, great educational system and then going to work to get it,” she said.


The first principal was Nigena Livingston, who had been the principal of a Lighthouse community school in Cleveland.

She moved back to Ohio because she was planning to marry and her fiancé lived there.

The second principal was Ryan Dean, a Harvard graduate from a military family. He previously worked at a private school in Virginia and at a charter school in Massachusetts, but he had second cousins living in Arkansas.

Anderson said Dean got married mid-year and moved to San Francisco, where his new wife lives.

Whitfield is a Fort Smith native who worked at Teach for America in Mississippi as a program director in the Mississippi Delta.

He was hired as a first-grade teacher in the second semester of the 2009-10 school year and then was promoted to director of instruction for the upper academy – or vice principal – last school year.

Whitfield said, “One of the first things I told those scholars and their families is that I would be around until they graduated. I don’t make promises to kids that I can’t keep.”

Felicia Kelly of Forrest City was hired last fall to help start up the College Prep Academy, which will open in 2012-13 with the addition of a ninth grade at the First Street campus. Lighthouse opened two other campuses, the Flightline Academy on Little Rock Air Force Base and one in Pine Bluff last year.

A new high school building is planned for 2013-14 and the charter school will add one grade level each year until 2016, when it will see the first graduating class.

Anderson said Kelly didn’t stay on as principal because the commute was too far and she wasn’t successful in relocating closer to Lighthouse.

Chris Carter has been selected for the position. He worked with Whitfield in the Mississippi Delta and is an Indiana native. He has lived in Helena for the past seven years.

Anderson said changing leadership isn’t a problem that is unique to Lighthouse.

Jacksonville High School has seen four principals in the past two years. Jacksonville Middle School, Northwood Middle School and Pinewood Elementary School all had new principals this year too. But none of them were new to PCSSD.

Adkins Elementary, Arnold Drive Elementary, Cato Elementary, Warren Dupree Elementary, Taylor Elementary and North Pulaski High School have had the same principal for the past three years.

Bayou Meto and Tolleson Elementary schools have had the same principal for two years. Jacksonville Elementary had the same principal for two years before it closed this year.

Tolleson’s principal re-tired and the principal from Jacksonville Elementary took over there.