GARFIELD, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — An application is in the works for a charter school that would be located at the current Garfield Elementary School building.
In January, the Rogers School Board announced it would close the historic elementary school due to enrollment and financial issues. Since then, the community has been struggling with losing a school that’s been around for generations.
According to Garfield mayor, Gary Blackburn, it’s the oldest running elementary school in Arkansas.
Taylor Dye has lived in Garfield her whole life. Generations on both her mom’s and dad’s sides of the family have gone through Garfield Elementary, including herself. When she heard the school would be closing, her family was devastated.
She’s been fighting for a school to remain in the historic building.
“I have a daughter. She’s just about a year old now. I’m hoping maybe one day she’ll be able to attend the hopeful Garfield charter school,” Dye said.
Michelle Jones has lived in Garfield for 15 years. Her family loves the area, and her kids have gone through the elementary school.
She thinks a charter school would be a good way to keep the school alive and keep a big piece of history ingrained in the community. She doesn’t think it will get any pushback from citizens.
“Without public school support, it’s fair game in my opinion,’ Jones said.
She also thinks it will be a big benefit to the economy.
“When a community loses its schools, it loses its families. Eventually, the local community kind of dries up,” Jones said.
At the beginning of March, Joy Thomas Sawyer put in a notice of intent to apply with the Arkansas Department of Education for a charter school license. It would be pre-K through 5th grade and have an enrollment cap of 200 students.
Sawyer worked in gifted education for two years at Garfield Elementary and is in her 26th year as a teacher. When she heard the school would be closing, she wanted to do what she could to keep a place with special meaning in the town.
“The people here are so close-knit and they support one another and they take care of one another and they check on one another. The school is the hub of this community,” Sawyer said.
According to Sawyer, there will be some differences between the public and charter school. She wants to have a traditional curriculum with science, technology, economics, agriculture and math, with a twist
“We want to bring in a program that is farm-to-table so that students are growing the food that they are able to eat at school. Then in the summertime, we can use that food to help feed the community so that they’re getting fresh foods and not just processed foods all the time,” Sawyer said.
Sawyer held a meeting Tuesday to discuss the future plans and answer questions from parents about the potential charter school.
Rogers superintendent Jeff Perry said the district owns the Garfield Elementary property. When the district vacates that building, it will be offered to charter schools in the area that are interested. The school would go to the highest bidder. Perry said this can be a long process.
“If they were looking at creating a charter school, at the conclusion of next school year, we might not even be through the legal process at that point for having the schools open for sale or purchase through various charter schools because they may not be the only interested party,” Perry said.
One of the issues Perry thinks the charter could face if it’s approved is low enrollment. He said any school operating below 500 will be losing money. He also said the building isn’t currently up to code. A lot of renovation and money would have to go into getting the school up and running.
Another concern for Perry is that the charter could over-promise and end up closing after a period of time due to difficulty with upkeep.
“When that happens, as long as those students are prepared and are ready for grade level entry, then of course it really has very little problems for us. But, there are times where we do get some students either from a homeschooling situation or from some charter school situation that those particular students don’t come in to us on grade level,” Perry said.
Perry said while he understands charter schools and vouchers will become a big part of life in Arkansas very soon, he still thinks the Rogers School District will provide the best educational opportunity for students in the area.
The charter application is due May 15. The final application is due July 17. Sawyer should know if they have approval for a charter school by the middle of August.