Charter company’s two schools moving forward in Lafayette Parish _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Ground work continues on Broussard Charter Academy Monday in Broussard.

Months after opening its first charter school in Lafayette Parish, National Heritage Academies is moving forward with plans for its second location, in the high-growth area of Broussard.

Parents can learn about Broussard Charter Academy, scheduled to open in August, during meetings planned Feb. 5 at St. Joseph Church.

The informational sessions are scheduled for 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. at St. Joseph Church, 232 St. DePorres St. The new school is under construction off Albertson Parkway in the new residential-business development Ville de Côte Gelée. The school will open with 520 seats in kindergarten through fifth grade and add an additional grade each year to eventually become a K-8 school.

The charter school is the second school in Lafayette Parish operated by NHA, the Michigan-based charter management company that also has two schools in East Baton Rouge Parish. National Heritage Academies opened its first Lafayette Parish school in August — Willow Charter Academy in north Lafayette — and registered 481 students in kindergarten through fifth grade before the first day of school. That count is at 455, based on a report submitted to the school’s board of directors to discuss at its Jan. 26 board meeting.

Transportation was a major factor for the majority of parents who chose to withdraw their children from Willow, Principal Melissa Jones Clarke said.

While public schools are required to provide transportation to students who live within a mile of the school, no laws govern charter schools. In the 2014 legislative session, state Rep. Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette, proposed legislation that would have required the local School Board to provide free bus transportation to charter school students in Lafayette Parish, but he withdrew the legislation to allow more time to study the issue.

An informational session about enrollment at Willow is planned for 5:30 p.m. Jan. 29 at the school, 1818 NE Evangeline Thruway. In the upcoming school year, Willow will expand to offer sixth-grade classes and open another section for fifth-grade students, Jones Clarke said Monday.

The school’s population includes several students who are academically behind, and teachers have worked to help students prepare for spring testing, as well as NHA’s own student assessments, Jones Clarke said.

“We’re not shying away from some students who are two to three grade levels behind,” she said.

“We know it’s going to take them more time to catch up. I tell parents, ‘If you give us your scholars, give us three years and we’ll have them on grade level.’ Or, even more so, we really want them on track for college-ready in reading and math.”

In its first year, the school also has a mentoring program for students, and older students, like fifth-grader Treyvon Quinnie, serve as ambassadors for the school. In a tour Monday, Treyvon, 10, pointed out the good work of his classmates displayed in hallways and introduced the academic specialists who work with small groups of students.

“She pulls students out of class to help them with whatever they need help with,” Treyvon explained as one specialist sat down to work with a group of students.

Broussard Charter Academy will be the fourth charter school for Lafayette Parish. In August, a separate charter management company, Charter Schools USA, opened two elementary schools — one in north Lafayette in Couret Farms, a residential-and-business neighborhood now under development, and one in Youngsville, near Sugar Mill Pond, a more established neighborhood development.

While the Lafayette Parish School Board rejected in 2013 the applications for both charter school companies to open schools in the parish, the schools’ applications were accepted by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The charter schools also had the support of the mayors of both Broussard and Youngsville, where residential growth has boomed without any new parish public schools to accommodate families with children moving into the area. Recently, the Lafayette Parish School Board completed two projects to help with overcrowding on two campuses in Youngsville — Youngsville Middle and Green T. Lindon Elementary. The construction of permanent classroom buildings addressed the schools’ current population but don’t allow room for any substantial enrollment growth at the sites, school system officials have said.

Charter Schools USA plans to open a high school by 2017 that likely will be located in the southern part of the parish.

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.