Daniel Ross wants to learn how to code his own video games and doesn’t want to wait. So when it came time to select a high school, Baton Rouge’s newest high school, GEO Next Generation High, stood out. The 14-year-old was drawn in particular to its promise to let students like him take college courses while still in high school.

“I just heard that I could go to college early, so I was just like, ‘I don’t need them other schools, I can just come here,’” Ross said.

And while many high schools offer college-level classes, GEO Next Generation’s model is to send its students to a college campus, in this case, Baton Rouge Community College. Vans will shuttle students back and forth each morning from the school to BRCC.

The new school officially opened its doors Thursday. Twenty-eight of its 102 students, however, have already been at school for weeks, taking a summer course at BRCC.

Quintasia McCray, 14, said her summer at BRCC, a place she’d never been before, was fun but challenging.

“You were learning college-level material,” McCray recalled. “You had to study a lot and refer back to notes.”

Thursday was also the opening day of the 2019-20 school year for students attending public schools in Ascension and East Baton Rouge parishes, as well as schools in Central and Zachary. By Monday, schools all across the capital region will have returned from summer break.

GEO Next Generation is the outgrowth of two feeder schools: GEO Prep Academy of Greater Rouge, a K-7 school with which it shares space, and GEO Prep Mid-City, a K-8 school at 1900 Lobdell Blvd. Thirty-two of the high school’s ninth-graders spent eighth-grade at GEO Prep Mid City.

The new high school is modeling itself after a school that its nonprofit charter management group, GEO Foundation, has run for years in Gary, Indiana, called 21st Century Charter School at Gary. That school has many students who’ve earned enough college credits while still in high school to earn an associate’s degree. A few of them have even managed to earn a bachelor’s degree in that time.

Thursday, though, the goals here were comparatively modest. Teacher Connie Brown focused on improving the listening skills of her fresh crop of ninth-graders.

Teaching a class called Introduction to Business Computer Applications, Brown had a simple request: Log into your Chromebooks and open up Microsoft Outlook.

“What did you say?” interrupted one boy, puzzled.

“I’ve given instructions. You were not paying attention, right? So you will ask two classmates before you ask Mrs. Brown?” the teacher instructed him.

The boy then turned to two girls sitting near him, but they clearly didn’t know the answer. Finally, he turned back to the teacher, still lost.

“Mrs. Brown, what did you say?” he asked again, prompting a laugh.

East Baton Rouge, the second largest school district in the state, began the new school year with 40,866 students, 477 more than the first day of school a year ago. A lot of that growth can be traced to three charter schools, BASIS Baton Rouge, IDEA Innovation and IDEA Bridge. Those three schools on Thursday had about 500 students more than they had a year ago when they opened.

Overall enrollment in East Baton Rouge is expected to grow. Some children enroll during the opening weeks of school and some schools take longer to update their reports.

Superintendent Warren Drake said he visited six schools Thursday, including Park Elementary, which was rebuilt at an expense of about $21.7 million, and said all were operating smoothly, with pupils learning and a few in the offices trying to get their schedules straight. He also credited the district’s Human Resources and Transportation departments for their work.

“It’s the best I’ve seen in terms of staffing as well as transportation on the first day of school,” Drake said.

Glen Oaks High School, which is in the third of four years of renovations and improvements sparked by the August 2016 floods, still “is not as finished as I would like,” with two to three more weeks of construction work still to go, Drake said.

Charter schools are public schools run privately via contracts, or charters. Twenty-six charter schools are currently operating in East Baton Rouge Parish. They usually are elementary or middle schools, not high schools.

But that’s slowly changing.

GEO Next Generation is the fourth high school in town that is also a charter school. It joins Madison Prep, Mentorship Academy and Collegiate Baton Rouge. They opened in 2009, 2010 and 2017, respectively.

GEO Next Generation plans to expand over time from 100 to 400 students. It eventually plans to build a new campus on vacant land at its 2311 N. Sherwood Forest Drive address.

Collegiate Baton Rouge finally has a permanent home at 282 Lobdell Blvd. after two years in temporary spaces. The newly constructed $10.9 million facility has 28 classrooms covering almost 45,000 square feet. It expects to have 450 students when school starts Monday and to grow to about 600 students next year, when it will have its first graduating class.

THRIVE Academy, an inner city board school, opened in 2012 as a charter school but in 2017 shifted to a state-run school. It enrolls about 200 students in grades six to 12 and had its first graduating class in May. Like Collegiate, THRIVE has finally completed years of improvement to 2585 Brightside Drive campus where it relocated in 2016. Its new $11 million academic center that includes classrooms, a gym, cafeteria and a healthcare center. Students arrive for school next week.

“No more major construction projects are coming up,” said founder Sarah Broome with relief. “This will be the seventh building we have opened in eight years, and I, personally, am looking forward to not having any building projects ahead of us.”


Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.