Louisiana Premier Charter School accelerates St. John push

Published 12:11 am Saturday, August 6, 2016

RESERVE — Louisiana Premier Charter School leaders, undeterred by the School Board’s recent denial of their operation application, are taking their case to the state and people.

St. John the Baptist Parish School Board members voted in May to deny the application 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.

Since that meeting, Charter School Board President Mark Roussel said Louisiana Premier has taken its request to the state and is committed to staging a series of public forums — the next is Tuesday — to generate a groundswell of support.

“If the application is approved (by the state), we’ll start the details of putting the school together,” Roussel said. “If it is not approved, we’ll start the details of fixing the application and pursuing it.”

Louisiana Premier Charter’s application has been submitted to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and Roussel said an interview-style meeting awaits before a decision is expected by the end of the month.

“When we were questioned before, the School Board acted like we didn’t have a lot of support,” Roussel said. “That was our fault, solely because we didn’t push it out there until we made the application. Now, they want to see the support so we are going to get it. We want to get more public input. In getting the word out, there are a lot of people behind it.”

Louisiana Premier Charter leaders are asking community members and parents interested in learning more about a community-based public charter school to join them for an informational meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Lifehouse Church, 2556 W. Airline Highway in Reserve.

Louisiana Premier Charter School was billed in its application to the School Board 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.”

Roussel said the biggest complaint he hears from local parents is the public schools’ two highest performing schools — West St. John High and John L. Ory Communications Magnet School — are walled off to most parish students because of lottery admission (Ory) or neighborhood-based student slotting (WSJH).

“The School District is presenting to us they are fine, everybody is happy and they are a B District when the facts are there are seven or eight underperforming schools,” Roussel said.

Charter school board member Diane Gautreau, a former principal at Prairieville Middle School in Ascension Parish, said public school districts have gotten so large they now have a hard time serving the needs of the children.

“That is what a charter school can really improve upon, because they can have a small population and serve the needs of the students, the parents and the community in a way a large district can’t,” Gautreau said. “You have that community leadership in a way that public schools seldom have. You have this group of leaders that is passionate about education and dedicated to making great educational opportunities for students in the area. That is one key to a successful school that the public schools don’t enjoy.”

Gautreau stressed she didn’t have anything negative to say about St. John Public Schools but adds parents routinely clamor for choice when sending their children to a school they feel suits their children’s needs.

“I think that this is an alternative for those who feel like the public schools aren’t quite reaching their kids,” she said.