Federal judge okays STEM Academy for Pointe Coupee Central High _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TERRY JONES -- Pointe Coupee Central High in Morganza.

A judge has given the Pointe Coupee Parish school system the OK to transform Pointe Coupee Central High into a science, technology, engineering and mathematics academy.

U.S. District Judge James J. Brady made his ruling late Thursday after schools Superintendent Kevin Lemoine defended the STEM proposal in federal court Thursday morning.

The school district had to get the courts’ approval because it remains under federal court supervision for not having fully complied with desegregation orders.

“The testimony and exhibits presented at the hearing paint an optimistic picture of a racially diverse campus offering a specialized learning program,” Brady wrote in his ruling. “The court is cautiously optimistic that the STEM Academy will offer a different enough curriculum from that of Livonia High and private institutions in the area that will draw a sufficient number of non-black students to improve racial diversity.”

In his ruling, Brady pointed out the state Recovery School District’s recent failure to promote desegregation when it managed the campus from 2008-2014.

RSD asked the court in March 2014 to return jurisdiction of the school to the parish school system after the state failed to improve the school’s academic performance.

Students who were attending Central High, a school historically attended predominately by black students, have been going to Livonia High since fall 2014.

Members of the New Roads’ chapter of the NAACP favored Central becoming the school district’s lone public high school and the STEM program integrated within a traditional high school setting.

“This is an exciting day for our parish; STEM is the way of the future,” School Board President Frankie Aguillard said Friday. “I know some people may be a little upset about this, but this is the future. This is what’s best for the children of Pointe Coupee.”

The district intends to start the program in fall 2016 with an inaugural class of sixth- through ninth-graders.

Like the programs in Iberville and Lafayette parishes it’s modeled after, students will need at least a 2.75 GPA or higher, and exemplary behavior records to attend the STEM academy.

Lemoine testified in court Thursday that an equal number of black and nonblack students would be selected for each grade level. Should the number of applicants of a particular race exceed the number of available slots, the district would make its selection by lottery.

Should there not be enough applicants from a particular race, any slots reserved for a particular race would be made available to applicants from another race.

According to cumulative GPA data provided in the proposal, 370 nonblack students in grades three through nine meet the academic standards for the program while 412 black students in those grades had a 2.75 GPA or better.

Lemoine said Friday the district will launch a public awareness campaign next week to inform parents about the program’s application process and provide more details about the school.

The district hopes to begin accepting student applications in January — after hiring a chief program administrator for the campus.

“We got roughly 10 applicants and we’re excited about the pool,” Lemoine said. “I hope to hire someone this month.”

Lemoine said the more than $1.2 million worth of renovations mapped out for the Pointe Coupee Central campus will likely begin in January.

“We have everything laid out for each month moving forward,” he said.

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.