Tuesday, August 13, 2013

TOP STORYS>>Jacksonville’s new high school

Leader staff writer

Hundreds gathered Mon-day morning to celebrate the completion of Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter School’s new high school, the College Preparatory Academy, on North First Street.

The $8.7 million, two-story facility is 40,000 square feet. It houses 22 classrooms, two science labs, a media center and an auditorium that doubles as a cafeteria, half of a basketball court and a full volleyball court.

The new high school for grades 9-12 is adjacent to the 28,000-square-foot elementary school (grades K-6) that opened in 2009 on 11 acres off North First Street.

The College Preparatory Academy project was primarily financed through tax-exempt bonds issued by the Arkansas Development Finance Authority, $4.5 million of which are guaranteed by ADFA. The bonds were underwritten and marketed by Crews and Associates of Little Rock.

The Walton Family Foun-dation provided an additional $925,000 in zero-interest subordinate debt and the Charter School Financing Program, a nonprofit entity, provided a $625,000 grant funded through a program of the U.S. Department of Education.

Mike Ronan, president and CEO of Lighthouse Academies, called the dedication ceremony a “historic moment.”

He said, “I think this outcome is a testimony of what can happen when adults come together to work as a community.”

Ronan noted that he founded Lighthouse Academies, which operates 21 schools in eight states, because “we have an obligation not only to serve ourselves but to serve others.”

He said college graduates make $1.9 million more in their lifetimes than high school dropouts.

The charter school system’s mission is to prepare students for college through a rigorous arts-infused curriculum.

Ronan also noted that the unemployment rate among college graduates is around 3 percent, while it is between 10 and 20 percent for high school dropouts.

Jacksonville Lighthouse schools have community support, great teachers and students, also known as scholars, who are engaged in learning, he continued.

These things are needed to achieve the goal of having 100 percent of Lighthouse students attend college, Ronan said.

Ronan explained that, even though it seems like an impossible goal, “we at Lighthouse believe. That’s what makes us Lighthouse.”

Before Ronan spoke at the dedication ceremony, Lighthouse scholars Jordan McNair and Cody Anderson shared their hopes and dreams with the crowd.

McNair said, “With this new facility, we have new opportunities. We have new tools and resources we didn’t have before. We have been given much, and we know there’s a lot to do.”

Anderson said, “My goals for this year are to keep my GPA (grade point average) above 3.5 and push myself beyond the classroom.”

He has been a Lighthouse student since the school opened the Jacksonville campus in 2009.

Anderson concluded, “I have watched the school grow bigger and better every year. We can put Arkansas on the map.”

College Preparatory Academy Principal Chris Carter added that Anderson scored in the 99th percentile on the state-mandated end-of-course biology test.

Former state Rep. Mike Wilson, who helped organize the effort to bring a charter school to Jacksonville, told the audience that the students said it best.

Wilson said, “To whom much is given much is expected. It’s clear to me that you (students) expect much from yourselves, and that is the one of the most inspiring things anyone could hear.”

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher told the audience there are still people who believe kids can do anything they set their minds too. Those people built the College Preparatory Academy, he said.

The mayor noted that Robert F. Kennedy once said some people look at the way things are and ask why, while others dream of things that never were and ask why not.

Fletcher said, “The people who think why not got together to build this.”

He told the students, “I pray you young people dream the highest dreams.”

High school English and journalism teacher Ginny Blakenship noted that she has never seen a charter school build a facility that is the envy of public and private schools statewide.

About Lighthouse teachers, she said, “We are overeducated, over achieving, overworked and underpaid public servants. And we are lucky to do it.”

Blakenship told the students that their teachers want them to, as Henry David Thoreau said, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”

She added, “We’ll be with you every step of the way.”

Also attending the dedication and ribbon cutting were state Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville), school board president Keri Urquhart, chamber treasurer Roger Sundermeier and Phillis Anderson, senior vice president of the Southern and East coast region of Lighthouse Academies. The high school’s drumline performed in front of the school as guests were arriving at the ceremony.

The brass band, during a brief interlude inside the auditorium, played “Do Whatcha Wanna,” which the director called an upbeat New Orleans-inspired selection.