Plans for a “school within a school” are being made for the upcoming school year at North Little Rock High School.
North Little Rock High School is set to become the newest member of the Central Arkansas Academies with its freshman academy. The initiative, supported by the Ford Foundation, calls for a more career-focused education with programs in high schools in the special school districts of Little Rock, North Little Rock, Jacksonville and Pulaski County.
Most high schools in the four school districts are starting with the ninth-grade academy this coming school year, with the exception of Jacksonville High School and Southwest Little Rock High School, which are further along in the curriculum.
The freshman academy program will begin this school year at North Little Rock High School. The ninth grade classes will all be moved to Tower D on the school campus to create a smaller learning community inside the school.
Students will still need to take English, math, science, and social studies classes plus a freshman seminar, but they will do so in a smaller learning environment where they can get more attention from the teachers. The academy will have its own deputy director, dean of students and academic advisor.
“It’s a school within a school,” North Little Rock High School principal Nadia St. Louis said. “And they can still be in electives, performing arts, they can be in athletics, but we have a place for them on a team.”
St. Louis told the North Little Rock School Board on Thursday that ninth grade is the most important year for any student and that the transition from middle school has become more difficult in recent years. While suspensions and detentions are on the rise across the district, disciplinary action against ninth-graders is especially high, St. Louis said. The academy can make the difference.
“It’s going to provide them with meaningful experiences as well as support staff to help them through their transition,” Saint-Louis said. “It will increase the success rate of our students. It will decrease the disciplinary references.”
The academy will eventually expand beyond the ninth grade. Students can choose different academic tracks which St. Louis has compared to selecting a major in college. These academic pathways will be career-focused, with the school district partnering with businesses in the city.
North Little Rock High School will eventually have five academies, a freshman academy and four other career-focused academies.
“The goal is for this ninth grade class to select their career academy path for the upcoming school year,” St. Louis said.
The companies would host field trips for students, job shadowing opportunities, internships, guest lectures and mentorship programs, said Kristi Barr, director of human resources and talent initiatives at the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s a personalized fit by having smaller learning communities, you make sure that each student is known to their teachers and you can give them a tailored experience. Again, we mentioned that it offers choices students,” Barr said. “They have the flexibility to choose a learning experience that will make their core courses relevant to them.”
The academies program is a joint effort between individual school districts and central Arkansas chambers of commerce. Barr said the program is tied to economic development, with the hope that better performing school districts will help attract more families to the area.