Sunset High School.jpg (copy)

The former Sunset High School is the planned future home of École St. Landry, a French immersion charter school aiming to open in August 2021.

École St. Landry, a new French immersion charter school in St. Landry Parish, is accepting applications for its inaugural semester, planning an August 2021 launch after years of almost-starts and perseverance from local supporters.

Applications opened Feb. 1 for the French immersion school’s inaugural kindergarten and first grade classes, with 48 spaces available for each grade level. Applicants must be residents of St. Landry Parish. The deadline for applications is 5 p.m. on March 31, according to the school’s website. 

Tuition for the charter school is free, and transportation will be provided for students who live more than a mile from the school site at 671 Napoleon Avenue in Sunset, with satellite spots located every five miles, the school’s application packet said.

Meet-and-greet informational sessions, both in-person and virtually, are being advertised on the school’s Facebook page, with in-person events scheduled for Feb. 20, March 3, March 13 and March 25, and virtual events scheduled Feb. 23 and March 15. Masks are required at the in-person events. 

Principal Lindsay Smythe Doucet said it’s a thrill anticipating first meetings with prospective students and their parents.

“When they apply, it’s just their names on a sheet of paper, but when you start to meet them and see their little personalities and to see the parents, how excited they are about this choice for education for their children, that’s what I find...to be so fulfilling,” Doucet said.

Doucet experienced the same thrill last year, when École St. Landry, then Académie Franco-Louisianaise de Sunset, was preparing to open its doors for fall 2020. Those plans were derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which created uncertainty around school safety and encumbered recruitment of French teachers from foreign countries to support Louisiana’s immersion programs.

Doucet said the pandemic was both a disappointment and an opportunity to invest more time in planning for the Type 1 charter school, which will operate as an autonomous campus while still remaining under the general oversight of the St. Landry Parish School District. The principal said the school’s team had time to re-evaluate marketing for the school, make curriculum adjustments and strengthen relationships in the parish and in education circles.

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“It was really, really was one of those situations where at the end of the day it felt like this is the time that’s the best for us to open. Now that it’s happening now it almost seems like this is the time it should’ve been,” Doucet said.

One aspect that received a major overhaul was the school’s name and branding. In January, the team announced a name change to École St. Landry, a more bilingual friendly name that easily captures the spirit of the mission, and named the lion the school’s mascot, with school colors in old gold and green as a nod to the shuttered Sunset High, Doucet said.

“For us I think it’s very much aligned with our mission statement. A lot of our mission has to do with pulling our heritage with us now and into the future. It isn’t just the language, as far as we’re concerned. It also has to do with the history and the heritage of our area, of our town, of that building which was the catalyst for doing this entire project. It was really important to us to do a positive nod to our town,” Doucet said.

The move to the former Sunset High property is years down the line. Until then, Doucet said the nonprofit behind École St. Landry has an agreement to buy the former First Baptist Church of Sunset at 671 Napoleon Avenue and is currently nailing down financing. Bids for a contractor to renovate the property are open and submissions are expected to close in the coming weeks.

The principal said construction is expected to last four months. The plan is to convert the church’s Sunday school and fellowship spaces into five separate classrooms and the sanctuary into the school’s auditorium space.

Doucet said École St. Landry has applied for four immersion teachers with the Louisiana Department of Education and the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, who are responsible for recruiting foreign teachers to the state. The school is also open to French immersion teachers working in Louisiana schools who are interested in transferring campuses, Doucet said.

The state Department of Education and CODOFIL reassured educators that the teacher recruitment hurdles experienced in the early months of the pandemic are not expected this year, she said.


Email Katie Gagliano at kgagliano@theadvocate.com