LPE availability leaves school schedule in flux

Published 12:05 am Saturday, September 3, 2016

LAPLACE — There is a time crunch to opening Lake Pontchartrain Elementary School that may force some or all parish public school students to begin the 2017-18 academic year early or, possibly, deal with longer-than-normal school days.

A calendar committee of St. John the Baptist Parish public school teachers, staff members and administrators is working on a recommendation for School Board members that allows for the under-construction school to open its doors in January 2018.

Massive construction is easily visible at the school’s 22-acre site on U.S. 51 in LaPlace, which has been dormant from student activity since Hurricane Isaac shuttered the location in the summer of 2012.

Today, the LPE community of kindergarten through eighth grade students and staff members is located in a temporary site at the rear of East St. John Elementary.

Superintendent Kevin George recently said the School Board can expect final completion of the school by Nov. 1, 2017, meaning students could start using the classrooms in January or August of 2018. The consensus among school staff and district leaders appears to be opening the school in January 2018.

“Here is the rub, you’re moving an entire school in just a couple of weeks,” George told School Board members at a recent Land and Facilities Committee meeting. “I’ve got together a calendar committee to start looking at a calendar for the 2017-18 school year, because we’re going to have to be a little more creative if we are going to start school in January of 2018. We’re going to need more time. We can’t do it in two weeks. It’s not going to happen. I am suggesting we’re going to need at least four weeks during the Christmas break to get it done.”

Numerous options are being considered, including starting school earlier, ending school later or extending the school day. A special schedule could also be tailored to Lake Pontchartrain Elementary students or impact the entire School District.

“There are a number of ways, because the state stopped mandating the number of days your kids had to go to school,” George said. “They just do minutes. I bring it up because they could do a longer day.”

School Board Member Patrick Sanders stressed there are pros and cons to whatever path the School Board takes, adding he is leaning to starting school two weeks early.

“We’re not going to make everybody happy,” he said. “We have to make the best decision possible for the District, because if we effect all the schools, you are going to have people saying, ‘you’re extending minutes and it doesn’t even effect me.’”

George said there are a lot of people involved on the calendar committee so anything he comes to the School Board with is going to be employee-created.

According to School District Purchasing Agent Director Peter Montz, not moving the Lake Pontchartrain Elementary students to the new location in January 2018 could negatively impact the rebuilding and reopening of East St. John Elementary, which was damaged by fire in August 2015.

Ups and downs

The School District first held a public town hall meeting in April 2015 announcing demolition plans for Lake Pontchartrain Elementary School.

There was plenty of enthusiasm after the School Board unanimously voted the month before to award the demolition contract to ARC Abatement 1. Attendees were told the new school would open in August 2017. However, demolition fell behind, pushing back the construction timeline that calls for the school’s reopening to take place in January 2018.

Now the calendar committee is charged with creating a schedule that keeps the January 2018 opening in place.

The construction concerns have not negatively impacted student performance.

Lake Pontchartrain Elementary students posted huge gains through increasing their 2015 Performance Score by 15 points in evaluations released in December. The performance raised the school’s ranking from a “D” to a “C” school.