A few minutes with ... LaTonia Harris _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Lafayette Renaissance Charter Academy Principal LaTonia Harris.

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of a Sunday Q&A series on the founding principals of Lafayette Parish’s three new charter schools.

AGE: 44

POSITION: Founding principal of Lafayette Renaissance Charter Academy

As construction wraps up in Couret Farms, the site of Lafayette Renaissance Charter Academy, the new school’s founding Principal LaTonia Harris has been busy selecting her staff for the Charter Schools USA-managed school. The Miami native recently moved to Lafayette to lead the school, one of three new charter schools opening in the parish in August. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Florida State University, and a master’s in education and a doctorate in education and educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University.

How long have you been an educator?

I just concluded my 16th year — nine years in administration, six years in the classroom and one year as curriculum support for mathematics. My education career expands from Orlando for the first year and a half, and the remainder of the time was in Miami-Dade. I came on board with Charter Schools USA in February of this year. I was a principal in training at Downtown Miami Charter School.

What prompted your transition from traditional public schools?

I had an opportunity to meet some individuals and fell in love with what they’re about. It was a true match with my philosophical beliefs on education. When I went to downtown Miami and truly saw it in action, the first day I was there, within two hours, I said, “I’m home.”

How was it a match to your philosophical beliefs on education?

The children — looking at how we can best meet their needs. Looking at the individual learning plans for students and looking at the data. Having those personalized learning plans truly makes the difference.

What’s the current status of construction?

We’re expected to move into the building at the beginning of August. They’re estimating that construction will be complete by the 25th of this month and they’ll begin moving the furniture in shortly thereafter.

What about enrollment?

We’re at 540 students fully enrolled. Our goal is 591, so we have 51 seats available; however, we do have about 70 students who are either in the accepted category and we’re waiting for them to complete their paperwork or the offered category and we’re waiting for them to accept or decline.

What are your goals for the first year?

It’s to ensure that every student, regardless of their background has made significant learning gains and achievement by the end of the 2014-15 school year. This is also a goal of mine: that by the time we finish the school year that we come together cohesively as one unit, one family. That’s not just the teachers or the staff members. It’s teachers, staff members, parents, students, as well as the community.

Marsha Sills covers education for The Acadiana Advocate. Follow her on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.