5 Questions for Susan Provenza, Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy

By: Shelby Doyle

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Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy is the first classical charter school in Arkansas, offering students a tuition-free, knowledge-rich curriculum in the Western tradition.


Read more: Happy humans (who know Latin too!)


Shelby Doyle: What makes Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy unique?

Susan Provenza: People are often surprised that a classical school would be anything other than a private school, because typically schools that tend to lean toward a classical style of education are private most of the time. However, it is a kind of education that really should be available to all learners. It shouldn’t just be for students who can afford it. The Barney Charter Initiative started to help open charter schools that are the classical model so they’re available to all students. We tend to be a little bit more traditional with our curriculum. We are very much more traditional with our teaching style. We tend to focus a lot more on the classical liberal arts and sciences. We don’t believe that education is just there so that kids can get good jobs. Of course, we want kids to get good jobs, and our students do go on to do great things and to go to great colleges, but education is there for the human soul.

Shelby: What is it like to be partnered with a college (Hillsdale College) and how do you think that adds to your school’s resources?

Susan: It’s wonderful. We really love it. Honestly, if we just had the teacher training part of it we would love it, because it is so valuable for our teachers who maybe didn’t grow up in a classical school and don’t really know what classical education is all about. For them to be able to learn from experienced professors who have been doing this for a long time… that is amazing and wonderful. Also, they do a lot of research on the curriculum and really are able to give solid advice and suggestions on how to approach different topics, what kind of topics students need to make sure they know, that whole cultural literacy aspect, and also how to navigate the speed bumps. Great books tend to be a little bit more challenging. So how do you do that with students who maybe aren’t as strong readers? What kind of conversations do you have with kids about the certain books that they’re reading so that they’re really comprehending it, understanding the technical aspects of the book, but then also getting that big picture, getting that humanity piece? Just being able to have that kind of feedback is wonderful.

Shelby: You mentioned that some of your students have special learning needs. How does that impact your student body and how do you manage to educate students with different types of needs?

Susan: We have interventionists that help out. We have extra tutoring that helps out. We obviously have a special education and a 504 program to help students meet their individual needs. We had one particular student who graduated this past year, and he was really near and dear to us, but academics were definitely a struggle for him. But he loved to talk about the things that he was learning, and he wanted to be able to participate with his classmates in those conversations. So even though he was in a literature class, maybe he would be reading an abridged version so that he could continue having those conversations at lunch with his classmates and he could participate in all the ways he wanted to. He was also a really hard worker and that obviously helps. When you have kids that are like, “I want to do it,” and they’re driven to do something, they will surprise you with what they can do.

We have all kinds of kids, which is really awesome because you want that. The world is made up of all kinds of people and so we want our school to be reflective of that. – Susan Provenza

Shelby: What are some of the things your graduates have gone on to do?   

Susan: We’ve got two classes of kids now under our belt who have gone on to further their education and they’re in all types of situations. We have top of the class [students] who have gone on to top private universities and are living out their dreams there and studying to be all kinds of professionals. We have students who have graduated and a four-year university was not something that they really wanted to do, and they are furthering their education in other ways. They’re going to a local community college and getting some courses under their belt. One of our students has been able to get a job at a local school for special needs students and is working there this summer. 

Shelby: How do you celebrate School Choice Week each year?  

Susan: We always have a pep rally and we talk about different things throughout the week that are related to school choice. We usually have a spirit week as well where they’re doing fun things like dressing as their favorite teacher or their potential future. The thing that we really try to emphasize with school choice and why we appreciate it so much is because parents know their kids and not every school works for every kid.

It’s really important for families to be able to say, “My kid needs this kind of atmosphere,” or “My child is really passionate about this.” For parents to be able to have the option to choose a school that is the right fit for their child is absolutely invaluable.

That is how education should be in America. That’s one of the main reasons why we’re so passionate about it. Obviously, we are a school of choice. We’re not a district school and so you have to choose to come here. You have to want this kind of education, and you have to desire that environment for your child. It’s exciting for us to see how many families are really interested in it and really want to participate in it.


Shelby Doyle is director of communications and external relations at National School Choice Week and can be reached at shelby@schoolchoiceweek.com. 


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