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Charter School to open on Riverside Academy campus; RA will continue to operate

RESERVE — Louisiana Premier Charter School has found a home in St. John the Baptist Parish, and it’s a familiar one for local residents.

The new charter school, which plans to open for the 2019-20 academic year serving students in kindergarten through ninth grade, will operate on the campus of Riverside Academy along Railroad Avenue in Reserve.

Riverside Academy School Board President Ed Wahden said the agreement does not mean RA is closing, noting there is no intent to close doors or turn away students. Riverside will still operate as a complete private school.

According to Wahden and Louisiana Premier Charter leaders, the two schools will operate separately on the 25-acre campus, which includes enough room for parking and recreational opportunities.

Wahden said Louisiana Premier Charter approached Riverside about its facilities, leading him and fellow board members to decide the school had under-utilized assets, in the form of extra properties, which could be leased out.

“We plan on registering all of our children and bringing new kids in,” Wahden said. “We can easily accommodate the charter school’s needs, as far as overall capacity, so it will not interfere with anything we have. We feel if other folks, including Riverside families, want to be part of the charter, it’s a choice.

“At our campus, we can provide a safe and friendly environment for another entity to operate. When it is all said and done, I think the opportunity for the charter to come in, whether it came at Riverside or not, is going to be beneficial to all. That level of academic competition is only going to make us all better.”

Louisiana Premier Charter Board President Mark Roussel said Riverside’s ready-made facility made it the most attractive location to launch Louisiana Premier Charter.

The location provides the charter with 20,000 square feet of instructional space, 18 classrooms, modernized facilities with Promethean boards and on-site Wi-Fi.

The lease calls for Louisiana Premier Charter to have scheduled use of Riverside’s cafeteria, playground, athletic fields and gym.

“We’ve got open enrollment right now online,” Roussel said. “If you are a student, it’s real simple. You put in parent’s name, student’s name. That registers the students and the application gets registered. The same goes for employment. We’re starting to get applicants coming in, teachers and students.”

Roussel said charter leaders would let the applications flood in this month and start analyzing them in March, kicking off the process by making sure everything is filled out correctly and sorted for grade levels.

“Right now, we are just requesting people to go to the website and apply at lapremiercharter.org,” he said.

Ready to open

Having reached an agreement in 2018 with the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board, the charter school is still awaiting approval of its operational plan via the U.S. Department of Justice.

“We have all the paperwork required to file and guidance on what we should be doing to this point as far as getting open applications and getting the word out to the whole community,” Roussel said. “We have replied to the list of questions (the Justice Department) asked about our enrollment criteria. Of course, it’s open enrollment. There are no test-based levels.”

Roussel is hoping to receive a positive Justice Department response in the next 30 days, at which time the plan will move before a federal judge for final approval.

The St. John the Baptist Parish School Board voted down a motion Thursday to waive policy to approve a new agreement with the charter school outlining monitoring, contract extensions and renewal benchmarks.

That motion is scheduled to appear on the School Board’s next meeting agenda.

Louisiana Premier Charter School officials have expressed concerns that a delay in finalization of the agreement will cost the charter school more than $100,000 in grant funding for St. John students that will otherwise go to no one.