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Following the advice of an outside evaluator, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday voted unanimously to deny four applicants seeking to open new charter schools in Baton Rouge.

All but board member Jill Dyason were present for Thursday’s virtual meeting. Board member Dawn Collins abstained on one application. Speakers submitted comments online that were read into the record.

There are 27 charter schools operating in East Baton Rouge Parish, collectively educating 11,000 students. That’s almost 20 % of all the public schoolchildren in the parish and more than double the share charter schools had a decade ago.

The four charter school applicants submitted their applications in early March, but due to the coronavirus, the school system was given an extra month to review them.

Mary “Katie” Blunschi, a former school administrator in Baton Rouge, for the fourth year in a row served as the school system’s legally required outside evaluator. She and eight school system administrators interviewed the four applicants on June 8 and 9. Blunschi ended up recommending the board reject all four applicants.

Now the applicants have the option of appealing to BESE to obtain a Type 2 charter that would allow them to draw students from across Louisiana. Applicants that want a Type 2 charter have to apply first to the local school board, which could award them a limited charter contract that would restrict them to students in the district boundaries.

Here are the four applicants:

  • Louisiana Connections Academy. This virtual K-12 school would start with 500 students in 2021-22 and grow to 3,100 students by 2025-26. It’s the second attempt to revive Louisiana Connections Academy, which operated in Baton Rouge from 2011 to 2017.
  • Louisiana Rebirth Blended Learning Academy. This virtual high school would start with 2,500 students in 2021-22 and grow to 3,500 students by 2024-25. It would focus on students ages 16 to 22 who are on probation from either juvenile detention or adult incarceration.
  • Pathways in Education-East Baton Rouge. This alternative high school would start with 300 students in 2021-22 and top out at 350 students the following year.
  • Supreme Academy. This middle/high school would start with 300 students in grades six through eight in 2021-22 and grow to 700 students in grades six through 12 by 2025-26. It is looking to locate at 7600 Airline Highway.

The two proposed virtual schools were seeking Type 2 charters from the get-go. The backers of Louisiana Rebirth Blended Learning Academy even asked the School Board to deny the application so it could then apply for a Type 2 charter. Louisiana Connections Academy President Katie Barras did not fight the denial, saying it will use the feedback from Blunschi and the interviewers to beef up its application to BESE.

And as for Supreme Academy, Blunschi suggested that while the application is “very comprehensive,” many other schools in Baton Rouge already have similar offerings. Supreme Academy would focus on arts and technology. Blunschi lists 12 schools nearby offering one or both.

Supreme’s chief executive officer is Howard Davis, the former principal of Scotlandville High. Davis questioned some of the schools Blunschi suggested already do what Supreme is proposing to do, noting some are distant from Supreme’s proposed location or others require high GPAs to participate in those programs. He listed several arts offerings that he argued are in short supply in Baton Rouge now.

In her recommendation to deny Pasadena, California-based Pathways in Education, which operates 10 alternative high schools across the country, Blunschi pointed to the poor performance of its two schools in Shreveport, which both have F academic letter grades. The School Board adopted a policy last year that charter groups with schools already operating in Louisiana need letter grades of at least a C to get approved for a new school in Baton Rouge.

Martin McGreal with Pathways argued that recent changes in the state’s accountability system for alternative schools will make Pathway schools C schools.


Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com.