A science-focused charter school in Kenner must show Jefferson Parish school officials it will be able to increase its enrollment of minority and “at-risk” students before it will be allowed to add a high school to its program.
The decision to deny Kenner Discovery Health Sciences Academy’s expansion application was made recently by the Jefferson school district’s administration.
It came after Kenner Discovery submitted a plan to increase the enrollment of black students and students who are low-income, have special needs or are not performing at grade level.
But that plan “does not adequately address our concerns and is unlikely to yield results that would bring the school into compliance with legal requirements,” Superintendent James Meza wrote to Kenner Discovery officials.
Kenner Discovery, which opened last summer, has classes from prekindergarten through eighth grade. Its expansion plan called for the addition of ninth grade through 12th grade as well as additional classes in the lower grades.
The school, at the former site of Joseph S. Maggiore Sr. Elementary School, is the only community-based charter school in Jefferson Parish. It focuses on preparing students for careers in health care and other scientific fields.
Establishing Kenner Discovery was a major priority for members of the city’s business community and Economic Development Committee, and it has been a point of pride for Mayor Mike Yenni and other city officials.
The key issue in expanding the school is meeting state and federal guidelines that require charter schools to mirror the population of the larger district.
About 58 percent of Kenner Discovery’s students are considered to be at-risk, a percentage that is “significantly below” the 77 percent of students in that category throughout the entire district, Meza wrote. Also, only about 16 percent of the school’s students are black, roughly half the percentage required to meet the district’s desegregation requirements, he said.
The charter school enrolls students by lottery, and it proposed weighting that system in an effort to bring in more black and at-risk students. But Meza said that did not seem likely to bring the district into compliance in a reasonable period of time.
In a letter to parents of children at the school, Kenner Discovery Chief Executive Officer Patty Glaser said the school’s open enrollment made it difficult to meet the parish’s standards.
“We cannot withhold admission to any students, whether they are eligible for free or reduced(-price) lunch or not,” Glaser said. “We are also a product of our current location, which has a high demand for public school educational options, with a lower population of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch.”
In his letter to Glaser, Meza said he would be willing to consider future plans.
“As superintendent, I have an obligation to ensure that all schools are in compliance with applicable state and federal law and district policy. More importantly, it is my obligation to ensure that our schools are serving the needs of all of the district’s children,” Meza said. “Insofar as the plan you have presented is not likely to yield the required results, I cannot recommend approval of the expansion at this time. We are, however, willing to work with you and to consider alternative plans to accomplish our shared goal of providing excellent educational opportunities to the children of Jefferson Parish.”
Glaser said the school will continue to work with the district toward an eventual expansion.
“With the success of our first year, excellent faculty and student retention, and tremendous community interest, our goal to expand is to accommodate more children, and we continue to be committed to that goal,” Glaser said in her letter. “We are sorry we are not able to do so in time for fall 2014, but we will continue to do our part to expand our offerings to meet the demand in the future.”
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