The Arkansas Board of Education has agreed to hold a February hearing to decide if Pine Bluff Lighthouse Academy’s charter should be renewed or allowed to expire in June.

The Arkansas Charter Authorizing Panel agreed in December to deny renewing a state charter for the next school year. The panel voted 3-2, saying that the school has low achievement levels.

Lighthouse, which has 270 enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grade, opened seven years ago. The state issued an F to the school’s kindergarten through sixth-grade classes for the 2017-18 school year. The seventh-and eighth-graders scored a D. Both represent one letter grade worse than a year ago.

Lighthouse Director Lenisha Broadway Roberts told the panel that the school was hit hard by the increase in the ACT Aspire’s minimum passing score in the English/ language arts test last spring.

As a result of the higher passing or ‘ready’ score, more than 30 students who would have met the desired achievement level had it not been changed fell below it, affecting the school’s letter grades.

Broadway also told the panel that of the 177 students who took the Aspire test last spring, 75 were new to the school that year.

Roberts and officials with the national Lighthouse Academies network of charter schools assured the panel that steps are being taken to remedy the low scores.

Khori Whittaker, president and chief executive officer of the national Lighthouse Academies network of charter schools, told the panel that “We are 100 percent committed to seeing that the school is an asset to the community. We can do it. We did it elsewhere.”

At Thursday’s State Board of Education meeting, Tommy May, chairman of the Simmons Foundation and a long-time supporter of local education, told members that he felt Lighthouse officials should be given an opportunity to right the ship.

He said the main concern was about where the students would go if their school closes.

“No question the panel’s decision was well thought out and articulated, and we don’t disagree with that,” May said. “We simply say we have 270-something students and right now — it’s not the right time for those students to be put into the environment that they came from.”

The hearing will be part of the board’s regular monthly business meeting at 10:00am on Thursday, February 14, 2019 at the Arch Ford Education Building, located at 4 Capitol Mall in Little Rock.