The charter school movement is expanding in Jefferson Parish — whether or not the parish School Board wants it to.
Two charter operators that had previously been denied permission by the board to open schools in the parish chose the fallback option available in Louisiana of applying to the state board of education in Baton Rouge, which gave them the OK this week.
Next door in Orleans Parish, all but a small fraction of public school students now attend charters, which are publicly funded but run by independent nonprofits. In Jefferson, charters have had a much smaller presence; so far, the local board has allowed just seven of them to open in a district of almost 90 schools.
Nonetheless, the leaders of Smothers and Athlos said they are eager to develop a partnership with local public school officials.
“It’s not us against them — it’s about us offering something a little different than what you have currently,” said Damon Smothers, who used to work as a psychologist in the parish’s public school system.
Smothers Academy will be the first school the New Orleans native has started and the only all-boys charter in the state. He plans to open on Aug. 22 with grades K-6, expanding eventually to K-12.
His application to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education was his fourth stab at getting approved. He was turned down in Orleans Parish in 2013 and in Jefferson last year. Jefferson then took charter applications earlier this year from Smothers, Athlos and another operator but opted to not act on them.
Smothers said he hopes to build the kind of reputation enjoyed by local all-boys Catholic schools such as Brother Martin, Jesuit and St. Augustine.
Athlos, which plans to open as a K-6 school before expanding to K-8, does not yet have a target date to open in Jefferson Parish, but the group already runs schools in Texas, Utah, Arizona and Minnesota.
Ben Bourgeois, who chairs the nonprofit board that will manage the school, said Athlos will build a 90,000-square-foot campus in Terrytown and begin hiring staff and advertising for students.
The school has said its curriculum will emphasize participation in athletics as a means of improving graduation rates and combating problems like childhood obesity.
“We want to be a good member of the community,” Bourgeois said. “This is a great opportunity for the kids in the area.”
Jefferson School Board President Cedric Floyd said he intended to take a wait-and-see approach to the district’s newest public schools. They join the Jefferson Chamber Foundation Academy’s campus on Jefferson Highway as BESE-approved charters in Jefferson.