school bus

Advocate file photo by LESLIE WESTBROOK

Families shopping for a school in Baton Rouge have a new tool: a web portal where they can apply to as many as 14 independent charter schools in the Capital City.

EnrollBR, online at www.enrollbr.org, goes live Wednesday morning. Families can continue to submit applications through Feb. 23 to get a spot for the 2018-19 school year. Applicants are supposed to learn by March 9 which schools have said yes.

New Orleans has for years used a common application process, known as OneApp, to help families find a school in that charter school-dominated city. It’s new for Baton Rouge, though, where charter schools are fewer in number but are becoming more common.

New Orleans' OneApp public school enrollment process opens this week; here's what you need to know

OneApp, however, relies on an algorithm to place applicants in a single school, which might not be their first choice. EnrollBR by contrast is simply a “central access point” where families can apply to multiple schools simultaneously during a set application period; the individual schools will hold their own lotteries, if necessary, to determine which children are accepted, said Dana Peterson, assistant superintendent for the state-run Recovery School District, or RSD.

Peterson said OneApp is unique to the needs of New Orleans. “That’s something that grew out of a specific set of circumstances in New Orleans,” he said.

RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard to step down, amid other leadership changes for state schools agency

EnrollBR will continue to accept online applications after the Feb. 23 deadline, but only for schools that still have vacant slots. And a limited printing of common application forms will be placed around town for parents who still want to apply in person at their school of choice.

RSD oversees six of the charter schools participating this year in EnrollBR. Only one RSD school is not participating: Kenilworth Science and Technology School. RSD schools in Baton Rouge can accept children only from within the boundaries of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.

The other eight participants are “Type 2” charter schools that can draw from outside the parish school system boundaries.

Charter schools are public schools run privately via charters, or contracts.

The state is dubbing the 14 participating schools collectively as the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone.

In addition to the website, the Urban League of Louisiana has developed a printed School Guide with background information on the 14 schools. That guide will be placed at local libraries, Head Start centers, as well as community and health centers. A small number of enrollment applications in print form will also be placed at those locations.

The Urban League developed a similar print guide last year for 12 schools in Baton Rouge, which were also called the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone.

The zone this year includes three new schools: Collegiate Baton Rouge, GEO Mid-City of Baton Rouge, and Madison Preparatory Academy. No longer part of the zone is THRIVE Academy, an inner city boarding school, which recently converted from a charter to a state-run school.

Ten charter charter schools in Baton Rouge have yet to sign on: six schools chartered by the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, two virtual charter schools, as well as Kenilworth and Louisiana Key Academy. Nor does the zone include a handful of new charter schools that are scheduled to open in Baton Rouge in August.

And none of the nearly 80 traditional public schools run by the parish school system are participating.

Newcomer Madison Prep is by far the most popular school participating in EnrollBR. The north Baton Rouge high school had a waiting of list of more than 300 applicants last year as did CSAL, a middle school which feeds into Madison Prep and which is not participating in EnrollBR.

Dujan Johnson, executive director of CSAL Inc., which runs Madison Prep, said he's "guardedly optimistic" about how EnrollBR will work, but still has a lot of questions. Johnson said he joined EnrollBR in part because he thinks participating will be mandatory in the future for Type 2 charter schools like his. 

Peterson said he continues to talk to other schools in hopes of persuading them to join the zone. He said he looks at the common application process in Baton Rouge as a step toward greater equity.

“We need to do anything we can to remove barriers and obstacles for families,” Peterson said.

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.