The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board will wait another week before deciding the fate of a south Baton Rouge charter school in danger of being closed.
The board plans to take up South Baton Rouge Charter Academy’s charter when it meets Jan. 17. The school board by law has until Jan. 31 to either close the school or renew its charter for between three and 10 years.
A team of administrators reviewed the charter school’s application, generally finding fault with the school’s academic performance over the past four years and not satisfied with its improvement plans.
But, a parade of parents urged the board Thursday to give the school more time.
Superintendent Warren Drake decided not to give a formal recommendation, saying he wants the board to make its judgment based on the findings of the team.
Board member Connie Bernard pressed Drake for a recommendation anyway. With some reluctance, Drake said he likes the shift in leadership at the school, but it’s not enough and he suggests rejecting the charter: “If you look at the school based on what the evaluators looked at, I would say that you have to come to that conclusion.”
Bernard said that was enough for her.
Mike Gaudet, the board's new president, said the school should have done better. “While I am sympathetic, I am also sympathetic with the children who were there in the four years you weren’t performing,” he said.
“Do we believe what has happened, and do we believe in your promises?” he asked.
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The charter school, at 9211 Parkway Drive, opened in August 2014. It is run by the for-profit Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Charter Schools USA. The organization operates eight charter schools in Louisiana; it used to have nine. South Baton Rouge Charter and Iberville Charter academies are in the Baton Rouge region.
South Baton Rouge Charter has about 670 students from prekindergarten to eighth grade. The school initially had a F letter grade from the state, but moved up to a D and has remained there.
If the school is closed, students would be reassigned among 42 neighborhood schools.
South Baton Rouge Charter's principal, Yolanda Burnette-Lankford, took over in July from Monique Smith, who led the school for four years. Burnette-Lankford said the school cares for every child.
"It is not simply numbers on paper. We are making an investment in our children," Burnette-Lankford said.
Lonnie Luce, state director of Charter Schools USA, who joined the organization in July, was puzzled why the school's charter extension is not being automatically granted given its recent academic growth: "I’m not sure what the politics are but we’d be open to discussing this." Luce said.
Gaudet reacted badly to that line of argument.
“It’s not political at all,” he said. “I hope you take that out of your lexicon because that’s not the way it is at all."
Newly elected board member Dadrius Lanus wondered why South Baton Rouge Charter is being recommended for denial while a similar charter school, Inspire Charter Academy, was renewed this past spring.
“On paper, those schools look identical, yet that school was approved and this one is recommended to close,” Lanus noted.
South Baton Rouge Charter parents who spoke were passionate in support of their school. Several spoke Spanish — about a quarter of the students are Hispanic — and had interpreters speak for them.
Stephen Towner, a parent, brought his daughter, Skylar, who is in 4th grade.
“All I’ve heard tonight is failure,” Towner said. “To tell a kid they're a failing, it’s like putting a bullet to their head, telling them to give up.”
Larry Young, a teacher at the charter school, said the school is a destination for many students trying to escape other public schools in Baton Rouge.
“Some of the schools you are talking about taking these kids to are some of the same schools where the kids came from,” Young said. “Why? Because those schools weren’t meeting their needs?”