Drive up to the three-story office building at 1900 Lobdell Blvd. in Baton Rouge and it looks just as it has for years. You have to inspect closely to realize the place, a charter school since 2013, is under new management.
“Only thing we've done is pressure-wash the building to take the algae smell off,” Sandra Douglas, lead principal of the newly dubbed GEO Prep Mid City, said with a laugh.
An Indianapolis-based charter school group which runs an elementary school in Baton Rouge is…
Looks can be deceiving. Douglas is cooking up a much different school inside those pressure-washed walls.
Since taking over in April, Douglas has replaced almost all of the teachers and instituted a far different curriculum. The 60-plus member faculty reported to work Monday for two weeks of all-day training. About 640 students in grades kindergarten to eight are expected to arrive on Aug. 1, its first day of school.
Douglas, a veteran school leader, is modeling GEO Prep Mid City after the similarly named GEO Prep Academy, the Platt Drive charter school where she also serves as principal. That school, which opened in fall 2015, earned a C-letter grade after its first year in operation.
That now-defunct school at the Lobdell Boulevard site was Baton Rouge Charter at Mid-City, which was run by Fort Lauderdale-based Charter Schools USA. Charter School USA still operates another charter school in Baton Rouge, one in Plaquemine and six more elsewhere in Louisiana.
In December, noting Baton Rouge Charter at Mid-City's poor test scores, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education refused to extend the charter for another year, consigning the school to closing for good in May.
A Florida-based for-profit charter management company that operates nine schools in Louisian…
In April, the charter management group Douglas works for, GEO Foundation, persuaded BESE to let it run the school instead.
The Indianapolis, Indiana-based nonprofit officially commemorated the changing of the guard Wednesday with a short ribbon-cutting ceremony. Kevin Teasley, GEO Foundation’s president and founder, came down to Baton Rouge to attend.
“It’s a huge responsibility to serve more than 600 kids, but it needed to be done,” Teasley said.
Teasley said the success of GEO Prep Academy gave him the confidence to think the former Baton Rouge Charter at Mid-City could be turned around on a quick timetable. He said Douglas’ leadership has been key.
“She’s disciplined. She holds people teachers accountable,” Teasley said. “But she lifts them up.”
GEO Prep Academy has about 250 students in grades kindergarten to four at its 4006 Platt Drive site. Almost of the students qualify for government assistance. GEO Prep plans to add a grade each year, stopping at eighth grade. The group is also looking to start a high school in fall 2018.
The most recent LEAP scores for GEO Prep Academy, released last week, show continued academic strength compared with other public elementary schools in Baton Rouge. Fourth-grade English was its strongest area, with 82 percent of GEO Prep students scoring at the Basic achievement level and above, 10 percentage points higher than the rest of the state.
One of the more attractive features of both GEO Prep schools in Baton Rouge is that they offer free after-school care, something most parents pay for. The new school, GEO Prep Mid City, also will offer free transportation. The original school, GEO Prep Academy, will have parents drop off their kids at least for another school year, Douglas said.
The charter school network uses Core Knowledge, a knowledge-focused school curriculum which Douglas is bringing to the new school. Core Knowledge grew out of the writings of E.D. Hirsch Jr. The program recently updated its reading texts and GEO Prep teachers are currently learning how best to use them.
Douglas said Core Knowledge is cross-disciplinary, mixing science and social studies into the readings, and is rigorous.
“This is definitely the most (rigorous) I’ve been around and I’ve been around a long time,” said Douglas.
GEO Prep also subscribes to the Teacher Advancement Program, or TAP, a whole school reform model developed by the Milken Family Foundation that is being used in a number of public schools in Louisiana. Teachers are also currently undergoing training in TAP.
Douglas said TAP and Core Knowledge reinforce each other.
India Taylor, a mentor teacher at the new school, worked last year at GEO Prep Academy. She said she and other teachers versed in Core Knowledge are helping teachers new to the program to see how to make it work in their classrooms.
“It’s proven,” she said. “It works.”