A Florida-based for-profit charter management company that operates nine schools in Louisiana is being forced to close one of its schools in Baton Rouge in May and has two more in the Baton Rouge area in danger of being closed the following year if they don’t improve.
The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted this past week to close Baton Rouge Charter Academy in Mid-City, which opened in August 2013. With 676 students, it’s one of the largest charter schools in town. Those students will now have to find new schools next year.
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Charter schools are public schools run by private organizations, nonprofit or for-profit, via short-term contracts, or charter.
Baton Rouge Charter Academy in Mid-City, located in the former Remington College building at 1771 N. Lobdell Blvd., has had an F rating since it started. Its most recent school performance score is 38 on a 150-point scale. That score places it above only nine other schools in the greater Baton Rouge area. Six of those are alternative schools, which educate special groups of students, such as those who are years behind their peers, have disciplinary problems or suffer from disabilities. State policy calls for closing F-rated charter schools after their fourth year, unless BESE grants a reprieve.
Supporters, however, argue that the school’s new principal Tale Lockett, who started a year ago, has made a big difference that will be reflected in future test scores. The list of supporters included Metro Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis, who represents the area.
BESE members, however, went along with the recommendation of state Department of Education. The vote for closure was 7-2. Baton Rouge’s two BESE representatives, Kathy Edmonston and Jada Lewis, voted against closure in hopes that the board would the put the matter off a month.
At the same meeting, BESE renewed a different Charter Schools USA school, Southwest Louisiana Charter Academy in Lake Charles, for five more years. Founded in 2012, that school improved from a D to a C letter grade this past year.
“(BESE) put policy ahead of what is best for students,” said John Hage, president and CEO of Charter Schools USA, in a statement released after the vote to close one of its Baton Rouge schools. “The testimony of parents was passionate and inspiring. Clearly, this school is deeply impacting the lives of our students and has become an anchor in this community. We cannot just allow this to end.”
The stakes are high for the charter school company.
It has two other Baton Rouge area charter schools that aren't doing well academically. Its school in Plaquemine, Iberville Charter Academy, which opened in 2014, has been an F school from the start. The other Baton Rouge school, South Baton Rouge Charter Academy, which also opened in 2014, was likewise an F school at first but improved enough this year to reach a low D. If either school earns an F after standardized testing this coming spring, they will be in danger of being closed as well. Those schools have 279 and 584 students, respectively.
Charter Schools USA schools’ model is to run kindergarten-to-eighth-grade elementary schools and, in some cases, open a high school for its elementary schools to feed into. Unlike traditional public schools, its schools don’t offer transportation, meaning families have to drive or walk to school.
The Fort Lauderdale-based Charter Schools USA has one standout school in Louisiana, Acadiana Renaissance Charter School in Youngsville near Lafayette, which has an A grade and nearly 900 students. That school’s principal, Christine Stoudt, was principal at Baton Rouge Charter Academy at Mid-City in its first year.
LAFAYETTE — Baton Rouge Charter Academy at Mid City Principal Christina Stoudt will lead Cha…
Seven of Charter Schools USA’s nine schools in Louisiana showed academic improvement this past year.
The company also uses its own money to either renovate buildings, as it did with its Mid-City campus, or build new ones, as it did with its other two Baton Rouge-area schools. Hage said the Mid-City campus cost $15 million to fix up, money it has to pay off over 30 years.
“We put our money where our mouth is,” Hage said.
Its charter schools, however, use taxpayer money to pay off those loans over time via lease arrangements. The South Louisiana Charter Foundation is the nonprofit board that contracts with Charter Schools USA to run the company’s three schools in greater Baton Rouge. That nonprofit board then uses some of its per-student public education funding to pay more than $1 million a year in rent for the Mid-City campus, according to its lease agreement with Charter Schools USA’s construction arm, Ryan Companies US Inc.
The Iberville Parish School Board has asked a state district court judge to declare unconsti…
Charter Schools USA CEO Hage came in person last week to lobby BESE for more time. Hage told BESE on Tuesday that three years of data is too little to judge a school and that its other schools around the country needed more time to show their potential.
“When you measure a school in three years, it doesn’t represent the momentum that you start to get in its third, fourth, and fifth years,” Hage said.
Kimberly Richardson, one of just five teachers at Mid-City who have been there from the beginning, said the school’s first two years weren’t good and that she’s seen “many teachers and administrators come and go.” But she sung the praises of Lockett, who started as principal in December 2015.
“In a few years, our students and teachers have been through a great deal of pitfalls, disappointments and we’ve suffered many losses,” Richardson said. “However, this year has been completely different. There has not been a mass exodus of teachers. There has not been a mass exodus of students. There has not been a complete change in the school and the faces you see by Thanksgiving.”
Several parents and students said they were worried about their school closing and where they would go.
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Aletha Mapp, a parent, told BESE her son has changed dramatically since transferring to the school a year ago.
"Now my son wakes up in the morning he says, ‘I can. I can be the next engineer I can be the next NFL player. I can be all I can be,’” Mapp said. “I’m asking you, I’m begging you to give my child another opportunity.”
Her son, Andre Haynes, 13, admitted he had bad grades before, but is now doing much better. He will be in high school next year, but said that his classmates will suffer if they have to go to other schools. He said students who would benefit from the school will also be deprived.
“My little brother wants to go here next year,” Haynes said. “How will he go here if you take away the school?”
State Superintendent of Education John White, however, said that the data doesn’t support the the idea that the charter school is a better option than the schools surrounding it. White handed BESE members a list of 30 schools nearby.
“Twenty-four have higher performance scores than this one,” he said. “Six don’t have grades yet. Zero are lower performing schools.”
Michael Stone, co-chief executive officer of New Schools for New Orleans, a nonprofit group that recruits and supports charter schools in the Crescent City, said he sympathizes with parents and teachers wanting to keep their school open. He said that it’s not their fault it’s being closed. Rather, it’s important to hold accountable “the organization that’s driving change for these children,” he said.
“It’s hard to look at the data and say that this school is delivering on the promise that it set for its children,” Stone said.