LITTLE ROCK — The state Board of Education heard a progress report Thursday on the Little Rock School District, as well as objections to a plan to bring nationally recruited teachers into the district and proposed expansions of Little Rock charter schools.

LITTLE ROCK — The state Board of Education heard a progress report Thursday on the Little Rock School District, as well as objections to a plan to bring nationally recruited teachers into the district and proposed expansions of Little Rock charter schools.


The state took over the district in January 2015 because six schools in the district were in academic distress. Superintendent Baker Kurrus said Thursday the district has completed several changes, including re-configuring the Geyer Springs Elementary School as a pre-kindergarten school so pre-K students are not scattered through the district; offering to buy back employees’ sick days if they announce plans to retire; and adjusting the school year to 190 days.


The district plans to hold five public forums at various locations in the district in February and March, Kurrus told the board.


Representatives of the Civic Advisory Council, which was created as part of the takeover, and the Little Rock Education Association, a teachers’ union, expressed opposition to a plan to hire about 65 teachers recruited from recent college graduates by the national nonprofit organization Teach for America and proposed expansions of two charter schools in Little Rock.


They said Teach for America teachers tend to have low retention rates and said allowing charter schools to expand would negatively affect the Little Rock district.


"If we look at the performance and the demographics of the eStem and LISA Academy charter schools, we know that most of the students who leave the Little Rock School District to go to those schools are not academically distressed," said Greg Adams, co-chairman of the council.


"They’re achieving students who come from middle- and upper-income families, and so to lose more of those students from our school district would make it even harder fiscally and educationally to do the job we need for the academically distressed students," he said.


Little Rock Education Association Cathy Koehler told the board, "If you allow the expansion of the charters, you are undermining the moral imperative that you took upon yourselves."


Board member Diane Zook of Melbourne defended the planned partnership with Teach for America.


Zook said the district has some vacant positions for which no one has applied and has some teachers teaching in areas for which they are not certified, under state waivers. The Teach for America teachers will be certified in the areas in which they will teach, she said.


Little Rock businesses are providing $3 million to help Teach for America recruit, train and support the teachers.


"When people give me free money and say, ‘Here, go spend it on this,’ that’s a great thing for me," Zook said.