The Arkansas Department of Education will consider the Van Buren School District’s request to open a charter school when its meets Nov. 10 in Little Rock.

Recently, the department’s authorizing panel recommended the board of education approve the Arkansas River Valley Virtual Academy.

VBSD Superintendent Dr. Harold Jeffcoat said Thursday the board of education typically follows the recommendation of the authorizing panel.

The district’s first charter school is set to open to grades 4-8 for the 2017-18 school year. The goal of the charter is to add grades each year until it is K-12 with a capacity of 325 by the 2021-22 school year.

Jeffcoat said ARVVA would offer students the ability to complete courses online in a customized manner and provide for greater levels of flexibility than available in the traditional classroom setting.

“Choice is the new American value,” Jeffcoat said. “The district is trying to provide patrons and students another voice in education.”

He said ARVVA will provide students with a lot of flexibility.

“Those with the ability and motivation can cover a year-and-a-half in a single year,” Jeffcoat said.

In a letter dated Feb. 29, Jeffcoat said the district charter conversion would be located at 821 Pointer Trail East, site of the Van Buren Freshman Academy, with an alternate location separate from the existing campus to be sought as the virtual academy expands.

The district will fund the charter school through the state funding matrix, which provides $6,646 per student. At a planned first-year capacity of 125 students, the $830,750 total will fund faculty/staff ($250,000); online courses/curriculum ($432,950); equipment for the 40 percent of enrolled students who qualify for free lunches ($12,500 or $250 per student); and field experience/service projects/activities ($25,000) with $110,300 in foundation funding remaining for additional costs.

Van Buren’s charter school will be the second in the Fort Smith region following Future School of Fort Smith, which opened in August to an enrollment of 65 10th grade students. The school plans to add one grade per year until hitting the 10-12 mark by the 2018-19 school year.

Earlier, Nancy Robbins, director of curriculum for VBSD, said a research committee for the charter school, which consisted of district teachers and administrators, believe the creation of a virtual academy would enable the district to positively impact a broader base of students.

“We see this as a way to reach those who may not want to, or be able to be part of a traditional classroom,” Robbins said. “Individuals who prefer a non-traditional education setting, as well as those who are homebound due to medical conditions or other reasons, are among those the district seeks to reach through the ARVVA.”

In its letter of intent to the Arkansas Department of Education, VBSD recognized the growing trend of online instruction citing, “Virtual learning is an effective mode of educational delivery that is growing throughout the U.S. As technology continues to advance, and our culture in education continues to evolve, we must be willing to create systems that meet the needs of all students, including those who desire a virtual learning experience.”

At the root of the district’s charter proposal, Jeffcoat said, is its overall commitment to help more students experience academic success, a theme that is echoed in its vision statement, “Every Child, Whatever it Takes.”