The Arkansas Department of Education’s Charter Authorizing Panel approved Thursday the open-enrollment charter school applications for Southeast Arkansas Preparatory High School in Pine Bluff and Friendship Aspire Academy at Pine Bluff. Arkansas Department of Education spokeswoman Kim Friedman said the Arkansas Board of Education will decide at its September meeting whether to review or not review the panel’s decisions.


“If the board votes to review a decision made by the panel, the board will hold a hearing on the charter application at its October meeting, or at a special meeting held prior to the board’s regularly scheduled October meeting,” Friedman said via email. “If the board votes to not review a decision made by the panel, then the panel’s decision remains. State board action is final.”


The Friendship Education Foundation is a 501(c)(3) and is proposing the Friendship Aspire Academy at Pine Bluff open at 3911 S. Hazel St., the current location of First Christian Church. Friendship’s supporters seek to open the school in 2018-19 offering kindergarten and first grade with a maximum enrollment of 160. The proposed school would add one grade through 2022-23, with kindergarten through fifth grade and a maximum enrollment of 480 students.


“The mission of Friendship Aspire Academy-Pine Bluff is to provide world-class education that motivates students to achieve high academic standards, enjoy learning and develop as ethical, literate, well-rounded and self-sufficient citizens,” the application says. “Friendship Aspire seeks to fulfill this mission by providing students a high-quality, liberal arts education focused on preparing students with the academic and life skills needed to be successful in college and beyond.”


The Friendship Education Foundation operates a total of 14 charter school campuses enrolling 5,200 students, according to the application. It was founded in 1997 by Friendship House, a 100-year-old child care center and social services agency servicing poor families in under-served areas of Southeast Washington D.C., according to the application.


Ninety-four percent of students are black and 99 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch — 14 percent receive special education with individualized education programs. Southeast Arkansas Preparatory High School is applying to open a school at 1501 West 73rd Avenue that would enroll a maximum of 220 students in grades 9 to 12 beginning in 2018-19. The applicant has notified affected districts of this proposed public charter school.


This organization received letters of support from the Rev. Joe and Juanita Miller, pastors at Share A Prayer & Word Church Fellowship, Inc.; the Rev. Gary Bell, lead pastor and chairman of the board of directors at Pine Bluff First Assembly of God; University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Chancellor Laurence B. Alexander; Sissy’s Log Cabin CEO Sissy Jones; and Southeast Arkansas College Vice President for Academic Affairs Kaleybra Morehead, according to the application.


The Charter Internal Review Committee identified issues that remain unresolved regarding student services: “It remains unclear how the needs of gifted and talented students will be met. It does not appear to be the intention of the applicant to have a dyslexia specialist on staff. The mission of Southeast Arkansas Preparatory High School is to “develop scholars prepared to take the next step in their educational journeys, through innovative, equitable, collaborative, and authentic experiences that develop critical thinking relevant in today’s global society.”


The board of directors consists of Pat Hart, president; Charles Anderson, vice president; Cardell Meadows, treasurer; Michel Gutman, secretary; Linda Callaway; Louise Hickman; Dr. Joanna Edwards; Judge Alex Guynn; Ken Thornton; and Former Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth.


Their goals are to increase the number of students at proficient or above on state exams by 15 percent each year; to grow every scholar two years or more in reading, language usage, science, and math in one year; and to send 100 percent of scholars to college without the need for remediation.


This school will focus on college preparation coursework using an integrated Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics curriculum, according to the application.