School Board nixes St. John charter school request

Published 12:11 am Saturday, June 4, 2016

RESERVE — St. John the Baptist Parish School Board members denied a bid by Louisiana Premier Charter School to open in St. John Parish.

Board members voted to deny the application last week following a denial recommendation by third party evaluator Strategic Solutions.

While speaking in front of School Board members, Kimberly Williams of Strategic Solutions said the things her company looks at to ensure a charter school is going to be successful were not present in Louisiana Premier Charter’s application.

“You are a B District so we take that into account, as well,” Williams said to School Board members. “There were lots of questions about special education that could not be answered.”

Superintendent Kevin George, who was also in favor of denial, said he wants to create dialogue between the public school district and Louisiana Premier Charter supporters to better serve local students.

“I don’t think this Board is opposed to entertaining more conversations about how this school system can be improved,” he said. “We are not perfect, but we are striving to work on those things. At this time, I would like to have (the Charter group) contact me to continue a conversation to see what we can get done in the future.”

Louisiana Premier Charter School Leader Alison Andrews told School Board members she was approached more than a year ago by businesspeople who live and work locally seeking to create an innovative school that would give children and parents more choices in St. John Parish.

“I know you have charter schools on both sides of you,” Andrews said. “You are squeezing in, but ours was one we wanted because this is people in our community asking for this. That is why I jumped on board with it.”

District 10 School Board Member Rodney B. Nicholas said he voted against the charter school because the public school district has improved two letter grades in four years, which he described as phenomenal.

“The District is making great strides,” Nicholas said. “We have improved on graduation rates. We’ve reduced dropout rates. ACT scores are up. West St. John High School was recognized by Newsweek magazine as being in the top 10 in their class of high schools. We really don’t see the need for a charter school. If you are going to mirror what the public school is already doing, why not join in with the public school.”

Louisiana Premier Charter School was billed in its application as serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

“St. John Parish continues to be a consistently low-performing district, with five of its ten schools still performing at the ‘C’ level and two at the ‘D’ level,” Louisiana Premier Charter’s application reads. “Further, St. John high school seniors are leaving school less prepared for college — scoring below the state average on both ACT and EOC exams. An academically stimulating charter school will provide parents the opportunity to choose an institution in which they can be confident their children will achieve success.”

In its application, Louisiana Premier Charter School’s board members included Mark Roussel as president, Patrick Hymel as vice president and Lucien Gauff as treasurer.

Louisiana Premier Charter businesses supporters named in the application or mentioned to School Board members last week include Evonik Garyville, Matrix Service, Roussel Tire and Car Care, Louisiana Cat and Sean Doody State Farm.

“These are all business people in the community,” Andrews said to School Board members. “Part of our application was that we are going to connect with business people on the STEM component.”

Andrews said this week she is working with the charter school’s board members to discuss what their plans are for the future, indicating no timeline has been set for a decision.

She declined to comment further.