Federal judge expects to make quick decision on proposal to transform Pointe Coupee Central High _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by TERRY JONES -- Officials hope to turn Pointe Coupee Central High in Morganza into a STEM Academy

The Pointe Coupee Parish School Board has agreed to pay $1.2 million in renovations to transform Central High School’s campus into the district’s new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Academy by fall 2016.

During a special meeting last week, the board hired Baton Rouge firm Mougeot Architecture to handle a laundry list of repairs at the campus, which was closed last year.

The district is awaiting approval from a U.S. district judge before it can follow through on a proposal to turn the campus into the district’s first specialized program for its academically advanced students.

“We’ve started the process and now the architect is putting bids together,” board President Frank Aguillard said Monday. “Some of the work is already being done now. We’re just about to get started on the second phase.”

The School Board has been grappling with a host of infrastructure issues on the Pointe Coupee Central campus since the state’s Recovery School District asked U.S. District Judge James J. Brady in March 2014 to return control of the school to the district. The request had to go through the courts because the school district remains under federal court supervision for not having fully complied with desegregation orders.

RSD operated the school for six years but decided to bow out of its daily operation after the state failed to improve the school’s academic performance.

Aguillard was able to talk local lawmakers into earmarking $959,966 to finance repairs for Central, which board members have said RSD should pay.

The list of renovations at Central include spending more than $300,000 to replace the campus’ boiler/chiller, $100,000 to replace damaged food service equipment, nearly $300,000 in repairs to the campus’ heating and cooling system and $80,000 to replace classroom furniture and administrative equipment.

The board hopes to have the work completed by June 2016 — in time to reopen the campus as a STEM Academy with elevated admission standards.

That STEM proposal was first proposed by retired Superintendent Linda D’Amico. New Superintendent Kevin Lemoine said Monday he has made a few tweaks to D’Amico’s original plan but is moving ahead with it.

“The main change is the grade configuration,” he said. “It’s going to start out the same as Mrs. D’Amico planned, but we’re going to grow it two grades a year instead of one.”

For the first year, the proposed academy will be made up of sixth- through ninth-grade students, expanding to fifth through 10th grade the following year, Lemoine said.

D’Amico’s proposal only saw the school increasing one grade level a year until it reached the 12th grade.

“More students would qualify for enrollment after the second grade rather than after the fifth grade,” Lemoine said. “Kids in the second grade have better grades, and it’ll increase our pool of potential students to include more minorities.”

The district wants Brady to approve the STEM proposal next month so it can start recruiting students over the winter and hire teachers and administrators in spring 2016, Lemoine said.

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.