LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Over the last 30 years, West Little Rock has grown faster than any other part of the city, but one thing has been absent: Public secondary education. Parents told THV 11 that they are frustrated with a lack of options for public middle school and high school in West Little Rock, saying the Little Rock School District has failed to meet the growing demand for public secondary education.
"Supposedly we have a new Little Rock School District that puts children first and we shall see," said West Little Rock parent Jennifer Stephens. "Right now we don't know where my 5th grade daughter is going to go and I have this conversation with many other parents every day."
Stephens is not alone. Many parents in West Little Rock feel that they have few options when it comes to public school after the 5th grade, let alone high school.
"Once they graduate we would have to put our kids on a bus for an hour each way to send out kids to a middle school, the school that we're zoned to," said Pablo Valarezo, who has two of his three children enrolled in Little Rock Public Schools. "The district has moved forward in some areas but I think that there is still a lot of red tape, there's still a lot of politics, and the movement is not fast enough for us."
Valarezo, however, says he's optimistic that the situation can change. He says with an enthusiastic new superintendent in Dr. Dexter Suggs, as well as plans for a new public middle school in the works off Kattilus and Cantrell Road, Little Rock Schools are beginning to address his concerns. Valarezo is also hopeful that a proposed charter middle school on Rahling Road will be approved for West Little Rock next month.
"It's a small option, it's not a solution. You can't charter your way out of this problem that we have," added Valarezo.
Many fear, however, that the charter school may be denied without the support of the Little Rock School Board.
"It's unfortunate that they want to block a charter school that provides an opportunity to fill a need," said Little Rock parent Kerry Davis. "It's a community that's full of diversity and wants to continue to keep their kids in the public school system, but a public school system that doesn't want our kids."
"I talk to someone every other day, if not every day, that is either moving to Benton or Bryant or moving out of state as their solution to a problem that the Little Rock School District has not addressed for 30 years," added Stephens, who says approval of the charter school will go a long way to show the school district's good faith in addressing public education in West Little Rock. "That will go a long way with the district to show us that it is a new district, that we are no longer enemies with the district."
All of the parents THV 11 spoke with for this story seemed very hopeful that Dr. Suggs will be a positive force in addressing what they say is a public secondary education void in West Little Rock. They are also very nervous about November 14th, when the application for the new charter school will go before the State Board of Education's Charter Authorization Panel.