County Seeing School Growth Of $71 Million

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

Steve Hickman, superintendent of Episcopal Collegiate, and Jeanne Joyner, president of the board of trustees, stand at the site of what will be the new kindergarten through fifth-grade school.

(To read the stats on the private schools in Pulaski County, please click here.)

While enrollment in Pulaski County's three public school districts remains stagnant, the county's private and charter schools are preparing for a flood of new students.

More than $71 million worth of new construction, some of it just starting and some of it completed, will increase student capacity in private and charter schools in the county by about 3,200 seats.

Interest in charter schools, which are tuition-free, is driving this growth. Private schools in the county actually saw a slight decline in attendance in the academic year that ended in 2008 compared with the previous year. However, officials at some private schools say, that drop is misleading. Private schools are expanding their facilities because they've outgrown them.

What's behind this building boom, particularly at the private schools? Competition for students appears to play a role, though private school officials declined to address the issue.

Why this interest in alternatives to public schools? Parents and educators say it comes down to choice.

But first, some numbers.

About 13,007 students in Pulaski County attended private schools in the academic year ending in 2008, which reflects a drop of about 50 students from the previous year. Charter school students for the same year totaled 1,749, a growth of about 80 students from the previous year.

However, expected enrollment for charter schools for the 2008-09 school year, counting the new eStem Charter Schools and the Lisa Academy campus in North Little Rock, shows a hefty growth to 3,016 students. The figures for expected enrollment, which were gathered nearly two weeks ago, are more accurate than those for private schools because charter schools tend to start school earlier.

Enrollment in the North Little Rock and Pulaski County school districts dropped by about 360 students each between the 2006-07 and 2007-08 academic years. The Little Rock School District, the state's largest with 25,738 students, grew by 238 students last year - but lost almost twice that many to the eStem Charter Schools that opened last month.

Meanwhile:

  • Arkansas Baptist School System broke ground July 1 on the first phase of a $6.5 million expansion that will provide room for about 130 more students at its seventh-grade through 12th-grade campus.
  • Episcopal Collegiate School started construction in May on its $17.5 million elementary school, which will accommodate 500 youngsters.
  • The Cathedral School is currently enrolling infants and toddlers in a new early childhood education center. The maximum capacity is 38 students.
  • Little Rock Christian Academy is more than halfway to a $9 million capital campaign goal for a new high school, adding about 500 seats.
  • Pulaski Academy purchased the adjacent Fellowship Bible Church campus for $18 million, then spent $3 million getting it ready for school. The campus added about 650 spots.
  • EStem Charter Schools opened in July in the historic home of the Arkansas Gazette, which underwent a $6.4 million renovation. EStem created 856 more public school seats.
  • Lisa Academy is set to open its new kindergarten through eighth-grade campus in Sherwood set for this Monday, Aug. 18. The new campus will add 500 spots.
  • Central Arkansas Christian Schools launched in 2006 a three-year, $3.6 million capital campaign for renovations, a new 11,000-SF science center and a new atrium. The renovations do not add to the schools' maximum capacity. Separate from the campaign, CAC added an early childhood education center at the Windsong Church of Christ facilities, adding about 24 seats.
  • Mount St. Mary Academy has kicked off its $7.7 million expansion and renovation project, which will add about 60 seats among other upgrades.

Administrators of these schools say they have outgrown their old facilities and are responding to parent demand for educational alternatives.

 

 

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