Feb 7, 2024 - Education

Bentonville's new "parent choice" schools

Illustration of a pattern for backpacks.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Two Bentonville elementary schools will be open next fall to students who aren't assigned to them based on where they live.

The intrigue: The schools — Mary Mae Jones and Apple Glen — will be models for breaking from traditional education structure, Axios learned from Debbie Jones, superintendent of Bentonville schools.

Mary Mae Jones will be the only elementary school in NWA and the third school overall (after Bentonville and Springdale high schools) with an International Baccalaureate program.

  • The IB program, which allows high school students to earn college credit, is a rigorous way of learning, with an emphasis on other cultures, Jones said. All IB students will learn Spanish, and the district will hire two Spanish teachers.
  • Jones said she isn't concerned about students not keeping up because they'll have strong interventions and tutoring.

Apple Glen is a "visible-learning" school — for example, students are encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning with self-evaluations and student-led activities, principal Tracey Wood told Axios. It has been considered a visible-learning school for a few years, but next year is the first it will be open to kids outside its zone.

  • The model works well for students who need to build confidence and for those who are used to academics coming easily to them and need to be challenged, she said.

How it works: Students within the schools' zones will have first priority, followed by others who live elsewhere in the school district and, finally, those who live in other school districts, Jones said.

By the numbers: Mary Mae Jones Elementary has received 89 applications from students who would not ordinarily attend there based on where they live, Jones said. Apple Glen has received 37.

Flashback: Arkansas' school choice policies allow parents to send their kids to schools outside of their assigned school based on where they live as part of the LEARNS Act last year.

Of note: If Apple Glen or Mary Mae Jones is a student's assigned school and parents don't feel the models are best for their children, they can ask that the student be moved to another school in the district. The district has not received any requests to transfer, Jones said.

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