Two new charter schools have been cleared to begin operating on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish for the 2015-16 academic year.
Laureate Academy in Harvey and Jefferson RISE in Gretna had their operating agreements approved by the School Board on Wednesday by votes of 7-2. Both schools were granted a type of charter given to start-up schools in September.
Meanwhile, the School Board approved a memorandum of understanding that lets Kenner Health Sciences Discovery Academy participate in a program designed to aid preschoolers from low-income families.
Leaders at each of the new charter schools have said they consider it their mission to prepare students for college and professional careers. Students who have special needs, come from low-income families or are learning English will be among the areas of emphasis, officials at each school said.
Nonetheless, questions were asked Wednesday, particularly by School Board President Cedric Floyd, about whether the schools’ charters comply with a legal pact protecting against disparities in educational services across the parish. Floyd also said he doesn’t believe the parish has adequate oversight of other charter schools already in existence.
School Board member Marion “Coach” Bonura, who moved to approve Jefferson RISE’s operation agreement, countered, “All these questions are answered. If they were not, we wouldn’t be presenting the operation (agreements) of this school. The i’s have been dotted. The t’s have been crossed.”
Floyd and Ricky Johnson voted against the operating agreements for the two schools.
Both schools came about through a $500,000 partnership between state and parish officials and Building Excellent Schools, a Boston-based charter incubator.
Laureate Academy will open at 3400 Sixth St. with 60 kindergartners and 60 first-graders, according to the school’s operating agreement. It will then add one grade per year until it reaches a maximum capacity of 540 students in grades K-8 by the 2022-23 academic year.
Jefferson RISE will open at 501 Lapalco Blvd. in Gretna with up to 120 sixth-graders. By the 2019-20 academic year, it intends to have up to 565 students in grades six through 10; it plans to add junior and senior classes by 2021-22.
Any child living in the parish is eligible to apply for a seat at Jefferson RISE or Laureate Academy, though both have indicated they will target children on the West Bank. Neither school will charge tuition.
Laureate’s enrollment window this year was Feb. 8 to April 30, and in the future, applications will be accepted from Jan. 1 to March 31. Though this year’s official enrollment window has closed, Laureate Academy said it did not have enough applicants to hold a public lottery, and the school is still accepting applications.
Those interested in applying can do so at www.laureatecharter.org.
The school has a three-year agreement and renewal option to lease the Harvey Kindergarten Center from the School Board.
Jefferson RISE is accepting applications at its website, JeffersonRISE.org. It is leasing a space previously used to run a school at Believer’s Life Family Church and says it has $496,000 in private funding, a combination of grants and donations from corporations, foundations and an individual philanthropist.
Laureate Academy and Jefferson RISE will bring the number of charter schools in the parish up to six.
Among those six is Kenner Discovery.
Kenner Discovery will receive up to $91,600 in reimbursements for accommodating 20 pre-K students who are at-risk for the upcoming academic year. The funding comes from the state’s LA 4 Early Childhood Program, which Kenner Discovery will participate in after a unanimous vote by the School Board.
Kenner Discovery’s chief executive officer, Patty Glaser, said the 20 new LA 4 students at her school were selected by a lottery held by Jefferson Parish. Those children will join 28 other pre-K students chosen by a separate lottery conducted by the school, Glaser said.
The amount of time it took for Kenner Discovery Health Sciences Academy to learn whether it would be permitted to take part in the LA 4 program annoyed supporters. The issue was pulled from the board’s agenda in March and April, both parents and school leaders said. Much of the criticism was directed at Floyd.
Delaying a decision until Wednesday created uncertainty for the families of the 168 students who had applied for Kenner Discovery’s pre-K program, Glaser said.
UPDATE, Thursday, May 7, 2015, 4:10 p.m.: Laureate Academy’s lead founder Claire Heckerman on Thursday said that while the school’s official application period ended April 30 it did not have enough applicants to hold a public lottery for the 2015-16 academic year. Therefore, the school is still accepting applications for both kindergarten and first grade. This story has been updated to reflect that information.