The Little Rock School District, which will open the 2,200-seat Southwest High next year, is home this 2019-20 school year to a different new school — the fledgling Pinnacle View School of Innovation in the northwest part of the city.
The goals for the school and its faculty are lofty and centered on technology and project-based learning, and where all students will be expected to graduate and do so with associate college degrees and/or skill certifications.
“We hope to revolutionize secondary education in central Arkansas,” Jay Pickering said last week about the school, which is starting out small with just a few dozen ninth-graders — most of whom are moving over from the Pinnacle View Middle School next door. The school is open to students throughout Little Rock.
Pickering is the founding principal of the middle school, which has grown from 220 students to more than 800 sixth-through-eighth-graders in three years. He is taking on leadership of the high school program, as well.
Early plans call for a technology-rich high school in which students will be equipped with laptop computers on which they will do their school work and research.
Agreements with area colleges and universities will be developed over the coming school year to enable students to take concurrent college and high school credit courses as well as Advanced Placement courses for which they can earn college credit, Pickering said.
Students will take core courses that are required for graduation — and they must show at least 80% mastery of those lessons — but their fifth, 75-minute class or block of each day will be a time for doing cross-curricular projects, digging deeper into their areas of interest, exploring new material, meeting with teachers and/or receiving tutoring.
Some of the course offerings this first year include English, physical science, algebra, Spanish, choir, art and computer technology.
The students are likely, in time, to incorporate a garden and a 3-acre pond on the school property into their science lessons.
As for school meals, students will use an app to order food from the middle school cafeteria next door.
The idea of the Pinnacle View School of Innovation, 5701 Ranch Drive, in a pyramid-like former office building for a craft magazine company, has its roots in the Little Rock School District’s Blueprint Facilities Plan for closing, combining, expanding and repurposing about a dozen of its campuses over the next few years.
The systemwide plan, approved by Arkansas Education Secretary Johnny Key in January, is intended to make more efficient the district that is opening the new Southwest High in August 2020 to replace two existing schools while coping with the loss of hundreds of students per year in kindergarten-through-12th grades.
Components of the facility plan call for converting the existing McClellan and J.A. Fair high schools into kindergarten through eighth-grade campuses — resulting in the closure of Cloverdale and Henderson middle schools and four elementaries: Baseline, David O. Dodd, Meadowcliff and Romine.
The blueprint plan also calls for the conversion of Rockefeller Elementary on the city’s east side into a buildingwide early childhood education center, with older children in the Rockefeller area being reassigned to Washington Elementary. In the city’s midtown area, Bale Elementary would be paired with the adjoining but currently vacant Southwest Junior High to become an early childhood-through-eighth-grade complex.
Additionally, the proposal called for adding a ninth grade to the district’s newest school, Pinnacle View Middle School — which was short of a traditional high school long sought by some northwest Little Rock residents.
Key approved the Little Rock facilities plan in his capacity as the acting school board in the district, which has operated for nearly five years under state control with a state-appointed superintendent, Mike Poore, and no locally elected school board.
About Pinnacle View, Key told Poore at the time in a handwritten note: “I also direct the addition of the 9th grade, including the work to explore how to accomplish expansion to upper grades, consider student opportunities and flexibility for the participation in activities and athletics.”
Key has said he added the note about student opportunities, activities and athletics because ninth-grade marks the first year of high school and rules about graduation credits and interscholastic activities come into play for high school grades.
Pickering said last week that Pinnacle View high school is not the traditional high school desired by some.
But, students who want to participate in interscholastic activities such as athletics can do so, he said. They will be bused from Pinnacle View to their attendance-zone high schools — Central, Fair, Hall or McClellan — for those after-school activities.
Visits to schools of innovation in Northwest Arkansas and project-based learning schools in Texas showed Pickering that academic-centered schools can be successful without a focus on traditional extracurricular activities.
“Instead of having football homecoming or a pep rally for the baseball or basketball teams, they would have pep rallies for their robotics teams that were about to go to state competitions,” Pickering said of the other schools.
Much of the Pinnacle View school program and culture is still to be determined and that will be done with students.
“They are going to help us build the school,” said Pickering about the incoming student body that will be no more than 75 this year and capped at 400. There are still available seats for the school year that starts Tuesday.
“What are the norms of our school?” he said. The students will be tasked to determine those norms. “What are the key rules that we all have to abide by? We want to create a culture and a climate that students feel free to express their opinions and feel free to express ideas. They might fail, but failure is the first attempt at learning. We are looking to take project-based learning to the pinnacle.”
Metro on 08/11/2019
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