Two-thirds of the charter schools in the Baton Rouge metro area improved academically during the 2013-14 school year, with three improving to B grades, according to school performance scores released earlier this week.
Still, about half managed to earn only Ds and Fs, roughly equivalent to the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, their main competition for students.
Statewide, about 40 percent of charter schools earned Ds or Fs. About 28 percent earned As or Bs. If you count all charter and all traditional schools, the proportions flip, with about 36 percent earning As or Bs and 28 percent earning Ds or Fs.
Charter schools are public schools run by private groups via short-term contracts, or charters. Last year, 15 such schools were in operation in the nine-parish Baton Rouge metro area. That total has increased to 23 this year.
Slaughter Community Charter School in Slaughter came within 1.1 points of achieving an A grade and grew by 15.9 points compared to the year before. Also improving to B scores were THRIVE charter school, which is just in its third year of operation, and J.K. Haynes Elementary. They grew 10.6 and 9.8 points respectively.
Slaughter Community Charter was the first local charter school not in Baton Rouge proper when it opened in fall 2011. This fall, three more schools opened outside the Capital City. Two were in Baker and one was in Plaquemine.
Baton Rouge has four F-rated charter schools.
The state grades the performance of schools on a 150-point scale. Schools that score 100 points or above get an A grade, while those with 50 points or below get an F.
Career Academy, which opened in 2011 and was one of the four F-rated charted schools, continued its steady academic slide. It declined from 19.6 to 13.4 points, the third-lowest-performing school in the metro area, and the lowest performing charter school in the state. The school barely staved off closure this past spring, and its charter is up for renewal this year with the parish School Board.
Next lowest is 1-year-old Baton Rouge Charter at Mid-City, run by the for-profit Charter Schools USA, which had a low initial score of 32.6. Charter Schools USA opened two more charter schools, one in Baton Rouge and another in Plaquemine, two months ago.
Slaughter Community has steadily climbed a letter grade a year since its initial D grade and is now the highest-performing public school in East Feliciana Parish.
“Our goal next year is to move up to A, even with the new Common Core tests coming,” Principal Linda Saucier said.
Unlike other charter schools in the area, Slaughter Community is a school that caters to a geographic area, Slaughter, though students parishwide are eligible to attend.
“We really have a strong community base,” Saucier said. “Parents come up and volunteer all the time.”
Saucier credits a dedicated faculty for the steady improvement, despite holding school only four days a week. She said all the teachers from last year returned this year.
“Our teachers often tutor kids after school,” she said. “If you come here at 5 p.m., you’ll see lots of teachers still working.”
THRIVE is unique, both in Baton Rouge and statewide. It is a boarding school that caters to tough-to-teach students from inner-city Baton Rouge. It’s a middle school but is slowly expanding to high school grades starting next year. Those students now in eighth grade will be part of the first graduating class in 2019.
The school is now the highest-performing nonselective public middle school in the city of Baton Rouge.
Inspired by a similar school in Washington, D.C., THRIVE boards its 80 students five nights a week, allowing them to return home only on weekends.
The school is abuzz with activity these days. The students recently planted new crops in its garden, and the children regularly adopt animals. Recent additions include a sick hamster, and a goat is on the way. A beloved guinea pig, Josephine, earned a state funeral last year, complete with a special tombstone with the letter J carved in it.
“This place is literally a zoo,” founder Sarah Broome said.
Because the students remain at school most nights, they have after school and nighttime activities, often off campus, that aren’t offered at other schools.
On Monday, they went to a political rally in Baton Rouge where former President Bill Clinton was speaking, also dutifully interviewing the handful of protesters to try to get both sides. This coming week, they plan to see the Dance Theatre of Harlem when the troupe stops at the Manship Theatre.
Students set their own learning goals, and on Friday, they were reviewing how they were doing.
“That analysis piece is one of the things that allows our students to go the next level,” Principal London Moore said.
As a boarding school with more time to work with students than the average school, THRIVE has an advantage, by design, over traditional schools.
Broome, however, said it’s not as easy as it looks.
“People underestimate how much effort we put into all this,” Broome said.