UALR, eStem to Partner on New High School

UALR, eStem to Partner on New High School

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock and eStem Public Charter Schools of Little Rock on Monday announced a partnership that will relocate eStem's high school to the UALR campus.

The project will entail new construction and renovation of existing UALR space. The new eStem High School, serving students in grades 9-12, is expected to open in two locations -- on and adjacent to campus -- in July 2017.

UALR will sell eStem property on the north side of West 28th Street, west of Fair Park Boulevard, for $50,000, on which the charter school will construct a 60,000-SF building for grades 9 and 10. In addition, eStem will sign a long-term lease with UALR to take over Larson Hall on the south side of the campus for students in grades 11 and 12.

Larson Hall, one of UALR's original classroom buildings, currently is not used. As part of the lease, eStem will spend $3.5 million to renovate the building. 

The partnership was approved Monday by the Buildings and Grounds Committee of the UA System Board of Trustees but is still subject to Arkansas State Board of Education approval, UALR officials said.

The expansion to UALR is being made to accommodate surging growth at eStem and provide students with more access to the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines, school officials said.

"Universities across the country talk about 'seamless K-12 through college' education, but almost nobody really succeeds at it," said UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson in a news release. "Having a strong high school with a STEM emphasis on campus will make it easier to collaborate in planning, coordinating, and offering a seamless curriculum in each discipline."

John Bacon, CEO of eStem, called the collaboration the "most exciting and promising proposal" for students and Little Rock that he's experienced in 20-plus years of working in education.

"For us, the concept of partnering with UALR is just incredible," he said. "The outcome is limitless. What we're creating, frankly, is something that doesn't exist."

Expansion has been gnawing at the open-enrollment, public charter school since it opened in 2008. Currently, eStem has a waiting list of more than 5,200 students. The move to UALR is expected to increase high-school enrollment from 500 to 725 in the first year with a long-term goal of 1,500 high-school students. School officials have set a goal of 5,000 students in all grades by 2020 and a long-term goal of 1,500 high-school students.

Currently, eStem's high school serves grades 9-12 in the former Federal Reserve Bank on Third Street between Main and Louisiana streets.

Its lower and middle schools serving K-8 are housed in the old Arkansas Gazette building across the street. Once the move to UALR is complete, the current eStem buildings will continue to be used by the school for its lower and middle grades.

The charter school on Monday also announced plans to open additional K-8 campuses to help feed the high school campus at UALR.

Once the move is complete, eStem students will have access to UALR facilities and opportunities to earn college credit. 

"This collaboration will function as a type of learning laboratory model that could boost STEM education in ways that will benefit other high school systems in the state," said UALR Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Zulma Toro.