EStem Provides a Public Alternative

by Jamie Walden  on Monday, Aug. 18, 2008 12:00 am  

EStem Charter Schools, which debuted last month in downtown Little Rock as a public alternative to private schools and public school districts, is already bucking several trends.

As an "open enrollment" charter school – actually, three charter schools in one building – eStem sidesteps many of the bureaucratic constraints present in traditional public school districts.

Since it is free from most of the ties of a public school district, eStem has taken a fresh look at the educational model and adapted it within the context of an increasingly global and technologically savvy workplace.

(To see a pie chart depicting eStem's financials, click here.)

Chief Executive Officer Roy Brooks said eStem focuses "on those skills that youngsters are going to have to have to be successful in the 21st century – science, technology, engineering and math. But then it takes it a step further by focusing in on the economics as it relates to those fields."

EStem's name is an acronym for economics, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

"And if you really can apply economics to the fields of the future," Brooks said, "I think you give the children that are attending our schools a very certain advantage in the global competition that they're going to face to get jobs."

Of the approximately 2,100 applications, eStem has accepted 848, just shy of its maximum capacity. Of those, 64 percent are minority students, said Brooks, whose contract as superintendent of the Little Rock School District was bought out last year.

EStem not only has a longer school day – 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for the elementary and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the middle and high schools – but it also has a longer academic year. EStem's 198-day academic year runs about 20 school days longer than an average school year, and the summer vacation is shorter while longer breaks are scattered through the year.

When a break runs longer than about five weeks, Brooks said, students start to regress. Teachers then waste several weeks helping them catch up.

The foreign language program includes the traditional Spanish and Latin electives and the not-so-traditional Mandarin Chinese.

"No longer are you competing against just a youngster in Pittsburgh or Orlando or Miami or Seattle, but you're competing against youngsters across the ocean on a different continent," Brooks said. "And you're going to have to be able to match their skills."

EStem also aims to cultivate entrepreneurship, Brooks said, adding that this focus is lacking in the traditional school model.



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