SLAUGHTER — East Feliciana Parish’s first charter school opened Thursday with enthusiastic students and parents, a few minor glitches and hopes for long-term success.
The Slaughter Community Charter School has 114 seventh- and eighth-graders enrolled for the first year of operations. They will be taught by five full-time teachers and two who work part time, Principal Robert M. Webb Jr. said.
“I am delighted. I think it’s going to be a really good school,” said Ellen Meeks, of Ethel, who enrolled her granddaughter in the eighth grade.
Although the school is governed by a community school board, a majority of the East Feliciana Parish School Board voted in August 2009 to approve the Slaughter group’s charter application for a school serving grades seven through 12.
The parish board members who supported the application said they hope the number of students who leave Slaughter Elementary School after the sixth grade to attend private and parochial schools will decline as parents opt for the charter school.
Slaughter Elementary is the parish’s top-performing school, according to state accountability rankings.
“This is something that Slaughter’s needed for a long time,” said reading teacher Peggy Reno, who lives in Slaughter but taught for years in East Baton Rouge Parish schools.
Math teacher Deshonda Coleman said charter schools have more autonomy and the flexibility to adapt to students’ needs, but she said she sees another benefit.
“Personally, I think they are a way to bring back neighborhood schools,” Coleman said.
Slaughter Alderman Robert Jackson said he and other town officials began thinking about having a high school in the town in 1996.
“It’s finally come to fruition. It’s a good day,” Jackson said, saying the parish School Board’s help was crucial in the end.
“I think it will work in both systems’ favor,” Jackson said.
The parish system is supplying breakfast and lunches from the Jackson School Complex, while the charter board has contracted with First Student, a private company, for transportation services. The school also follows the parish’s four-day-per-week schedule.
The charter school operates in a building formed from nine smaller modular buildings on the edge of the Slaughter ball park on La. 412. The proper entrance to the school is from Midway Road, and school traffic will exit on La. 412.
Volunteer Sam Shields arrived before 7 a.m. to help direct traffic on opening day, saying he is a member of the Community and Parents Squad, a support and fundraising group.
A federal lawsuit filed by black residents of the parish delayed the school opening with only the seventh grade last year, but the charter board made plans to open a grade a year.
The school will need a construction program to complete the transition to offering high school classes, but Jackson said he believes Slaughter residents will come through when called to support funding.
“Our community will support it just like they have supported the elementary school,” he said.
Webb was principal of Belaire High School for six years and served as assistant principal at Baton Rouge High School, Northeast Elementary School and Sherwood Middle School.
“It’s a challenge to say what will be a challenge,” Webb said, explaining that his new school won’t face problems in assisting large numbers of transient students or with absenteeism.
“We also have community support. We’ll be able to keep the rigor in our classrooms,” he said.
Three teachers followed him from Belaire to Slaughter.
One of them, Robbye Kees, said her assignment last year was a temporary position and she would have had a new job this year.
“If I was going to start something new anyway, I’d rather start from the ground up on something new,” Kees said.
Unlike teachers in many charter schools, the Slaughter faculty will remain in the state teacher retirement system, a positive factor in recruiting experienced teachers.