In yet another shakeup for the Baton Rouge charter school world, Apex Collegiate Academy broke the news to its parents Wednesday that it will close its doors on May 31 when its school year ends.
“Academically, the pace at which our students are moving is not fast enough,” Eric Lewis, Apex's founder and school executive director, told The Advocate.
The charter school’s board of directors voted late last week to close the school, which has an F academic letter grade, after three years in operation. Lewis said he sent a letter Friday to the Louisiana Department of Education informing it of the move.
The charter school had another year to go on its four-year contract, but after much debate, it was decided to hang it up.
“The future of the school has been a conversation throughout the school year,” Lewis said.
The middle school, which educates about 170 students, invited representatives from other Baton Rouge middle schools to its parent meeting Wednesday, particularly for rising sixth- and seventh-graders who need to find a new middle school to attend next year. The eighth-graders have already been looking for high schools in which to enroll.
The meeting attracted about 70 people to the dining hall at Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church, where Apex has rented space since it opened in summer 2016.
The news was a surprise for parents and students alike.
Mckinlia Laphand came without her son, who is in seventh grade at Apex.
“I’m concerned how to tell him,” Laphand said. “He loves coming here. He doesn’t want to go anywhere else.”
Marcus and Kay Virgil came with their son Mason, 12, who is in seventh grade, and they were also surprised. They, too, like Apex and aren’t relishing searching again for another school.
“I like the structure. I like the attention to detail,” said the father. “Just like Mr. Lewis going to check the ties, checking the shoes, understanding the importance of why you dress like that. You dress for success.”
Mason, who transferred to Apex midyear last year from another school where he said he was being bullied, also likes Apex, noting how teachers switch classes, not the students.
“I like the structure, it just needs to be less strict,” he said.
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Apex’s announcement comes as the state said it wants to revoke the charter for Laurel Oaks Charter School, which also opened in 2016, a move that Laurel Oak leaders say they will fight.
Meanwhile, the charters for two more Baton Rouge charter schools, Baton Rouge College Prep and Friendship Capitol High, are ending in May.
Celerity Schools is taking over the middle school that Baton Rouge College Prep has run since 2015 on the former Glen Oaks Middle School campus and plans to merge it with the middle school it runs at Crestworth Middle School.
Meanwhile, Washington, D.C.-based Friendship Schools will continue to run Capitol High for the 2019-20 school year, while the alumni and the state look for someone else to take over the high school.
Twenty-nine charter schools operate in East Baton Rouge Parish. Charter schools are public school operated via charters, or contracts.
Lewis said Apex set a goal when it opened that 100% of its eighth-graders would be on grade level or better, but he estimated only about half of the current eighth grade meets that standard. He said Apex students generally arrived “drastically behind” — 60% of its initial class were at least a grade level behind — and it proved too much to try to advance them fast enough, especially now that the state has raised the bar from just being grade level, or “basic,” to “mastery.”
"The reality is we're not on track to do that," Lewis said.
Two public charter schools that focus explicitly on preparing children for college are opening their doors in Baton Rouge.
Treylon Hafford, 14, transferred to Apex in the fall from another middle school in Baton Rouge and was sad to hear the news Wednesday.
“The teachers help us more here,” Hafford said. “They explain what we’re supposed to do.”
Before founding Apex, Lewis, who was a business consultant for years, spent three years as state director for the pro-school choice group Black Alliance for Educational Options.
Lewis developed Apex during an 18-month fellowship with Boston-based Building Excellent Schools, which mentors would-be charter school leaders in part by having them spend time working at other high-performing charter schools. He is one of five BES fellows who went on to launch charter schools in Baton Rouge. Only one of those schools, UP Elementary, is likely to be open in 2019-20.
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The state gave both Apex and Laurel Oaks charters in December 2015 over the objections of East Baton Rouge Parish schools Superintendent Warren Drake. In one of his first actions as superintendent, Drake had urged the rejection of the two schools’ charters.