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HSMS becomes junior academy

Waivers from the state allowed the Hot Springs School District to revise its approach to education at the middle school level before the construction of a new junior high campus in coming years.

The district successfully applied for the middle school to become Hot Springs Junior Academy as a conversion charter school for the 2017-18 academic year. Charters are granted by a state panel for as many as five years.

"We are trying to change the way teachers teach and students learn," said Principal Natasha Lenox. "We want to make this student-centered. We want to make sure we are meeting the needs of all of our students, wherever they are, and provide whatever it is they need to master the content."

Conversion charter schools remain the same entity, but waivers are granted to allow them to alter the way they operate during the school day. Hot Springs requested a seat time waiver to allow students to progress through the curriculum at their own pace and a licensure waiver to allow members of the community to lead lessons in their fields for noncore classes.

A class size waiver was sought to accommodate possible large classes in the Junior Academy's enrichment program. The state's regular guidelines for grades 7-12 restrict classes to 30 students and a teacher can only be assigned as many as 150 students at one time.

The school will no longer offer classes in health safety and career orientation. The health standards will be embedded in physical education, family and consumer sciences and other classes. Career orientation will be embedded throughout the core classes.

Students at the middle school will be exposed to all 16 pathways of the four academies at Hot Springs World Class High School, which began as a conversion charter school in 2016-17. The four academies cover business and technology, industrial technology, education and health care, and liberal studies. Speakers and community members who work with the high school will also visit grades 7-8.

"We are collaborating a lot more with the high school and those administrators, as far as planning, what we want to see and trying to get the students used to change," said Utana Newborn, assistant principal. "At the same time, we want to prepare them for the high school, so there won't be much change."

The bell schedule will remain the same, but teachers will utilize more project-based learning. Lenox said the district followed previous graduates and learned many of them did not progress to postsecondary institutions.

"About 70 percent did not leave the high school and go to college," Lenox said. "We want to make sure they are at least ready for a career. We have not fully prepared our students for careers, because they do not know the soft skills. They have not had to exercise those soft skills: shaking hands, looking people in the eye, how to handle confrontation on a job."

Junior Academy staff will study Stephen Covey's "The Leader in Me" during the school year and the high school will study Sean Covey's "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens." The schools will switch books in 2018-19 before applying for a grant in 2019-20 to further integrate the concepts.

"We want students to learn the real world applications of the skills they learn," Lenox said. "We want them to be problem-solvers. We are going to give them a problem and they are going to tell us how they are going to fix it using the skills they have learned throughout classes."

The project-based learning and real-world connections are meant to learn from the community and better prepare students for the workforce. The school will focus on self awareness and study skills during the first semester.

Pre-Advanced Placement students in the seventh grade will work with Summit Learning's personalized program. Each student will be assigned a mentor and must show mastery of the content before they progress to the next stage.

Lenox met with parents this week for an overview of the program. The high school is starting the program this year with freshman.

"It's putting students at the center of learning and making them a little bit more accountable for what they learn, how they learn it and how they show they have mastered it," Lenox said.

Teachers have a month to develop proposals for enrichment classes to submit to Lenox. Students will then choose which enrichment classes they attend.

"Each teacher focuses on enriching the students' educational process through their own personal passions," Lenox said.

Enrichment meets every day for 30 minutes. Activities such as reading and embroidery will be held three days per week and teachers will discuss leadership skills the other two days.

District voters approved a millage increase and extension last September to increase the rate to 42.1 mills. The two major projects are a new structure for Langston Aerospace and Environmental Studies Magnet School and a junior high campus, featuring a 1,000-seat auditorium and a 2,200-seat multipurpose arena, next to the high school.

The junior high will include grades 7-9. The auditorium and arena will be used by grades 7-12.

Lenox and middle school staff were consulted on designs for the new school. John Stokes, EAST facilitator, and Cherri Mertz, registrar, represented the school on the design committee.

"It is going to be good, because we are feeding into the high school," Newborn said. "With them focusing on being college and career ready, we are actually getting them prepared for that before they even reach the high school. They are going to be able to learn about a lot of different careers.

"With us having the mentor and enrichment time built into our schedule, they will have all year to learn about different things, experience different things and have speakers come in."

Both campuses are working to strengthen ties and more closely align to each other. The district now has one student handbook for grades 7-12 and Lenox said the Junior Academy will transition to a similar bell schedule as the high school next year.

Local on 08/13/2017

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