An 18-year-old Baton Rouge middle school looks like it will safely enter its third decade of operation after it received preliminary approval Thursday to renew its charter with the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.
The School Board, meeting as a “committee of the whole,” unanimously recommended extending CSAL’s operating contract, set to expire June 30, for 10 more years through 2026. The board is expected to give final approval to the renewal when it meets again May 19. That would allow Superintendent Warren Drake to finalize a contract with the school located at 1555 Madison Ave.
CSAL, which stands for Community School For Apprenticeship Learning, opened in 1997. It was one of the original three charter schools that opened in Baton Rouge that year.
The other two, Children’s Charter and J.K. Haynes charter schools, also remain open. They had 10-year charter renewals approved in 2012. Both had C letter grades then but have declined since to a D and an F, respectively.
Charter schools are public schools run independently of the school system by private organizations via charter, or contracts.
CSAL has steadily improved academically in recent years from a D to a B letter grade.
Andrea O’Konski, chief of academic programs for the school system, told the board that as part of the renewal process, CSAL underwent an academic audit, submitted a 100-page application for renewal and was evaluated by a committee of educators led by former Scotlandville High School Principal Howard Davis. That committee ended up giving CSAL an average rating of 3.8 on a four-point scale, O’Konski said.
A few board members complimented CSAL for its success
Board member Vereta Lee said CSAL’s success shows the superiority of charter schools that have charters from local school boards, so-called Type 1 charters, as opposed to those that have charters with the state.
“These are the type of charters I like to see where they are working under an elected board,” Lee said. “We’re keeping an eye on them, and we’re glad to see them succeeding.”
Over time, CSAL has grown from a small middle school into CSAL Inc., a homegrown network of three charter schools covering every grade and educating 2,600 children across the state.
The original CSAL now feeds into the B-rated Madison Prep, a high school that opened in 2009 and has a charter with the state.
Another, much different CSAL-run school is Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy. This online school educates students from across Louisiana in grades kindergarten through 12th. Instruction occurs almost exclusively online via a prepackaged curriculum supplied by the suburban Washington, D.C.-based for-profit giant, K12. It currently has a D letter grade, down from a C the year before.
CSAL has maintained close ties with the school system through the years. Several school system employees have served on the board of directors — Deputy Superintendent Adam Smith is a past board president — but none currently serve on the board.
On Thursday, the School Board also considered the best name for a virtual school of its own that is opening this fall. A naming committee held a public meeting on April 26 and came up with three similar names. Among those, Superintendent Drake chose East Baton Rouge Virtual High School as his favorite.
Drake, however, agreed to take a second look at the name after School Board President Barbara Freiberg objected to calling it a “high school” as opposed to just “school.” She worried calling it a high school would be limiting if the school decided to expand into the lower grades.
The board also recommended hiring a firm to look at the demographics of where students live and where they are going to school in East Baton Rouge Parish to aid with school construction forecasting. This would be the first update of this kind of such information in a decade.
The last student demographic study was conducted in preparation for the successful renewal of a 1-cent sales tax in 2008, a tax which funds most school construction in Baton Rouge.
The new study would be done as the school system prepares to seek a renewal of that tax in 2018.