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Baton Rouge Charter Academy Fights to Stay Open, Keep 600 students

By Candace J. Semien (The Drum/NNPA Member)

BATON ROUGE — When Jonathan Hage traveled to Baton Rouge following the August flood, the Charter School USA director’s first concerns were his teachers’ and students’ well-being. Along with his wife and other executives, Hage brought hope and money; each teacher received $500.

“It’s not money. It’s love,” Sherry Hage told the teachers. “We want you to know that you’re loved and cared for.”

The gesture was especially generous for the teachers who had lost property and possessions. Their support came as a result of their employment at the Baton Rouge Charter Academy (BRCA) at Mid-City. “These are our teachers; these are our kids,” Jonathan Hage said. “This is honestly the best part about what we do.”

But now, the Mid-City charter and its teachers face a formidable challenge to save the school.

After three years with performance scores less than 40, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education denied the charter renewal request and will close the school under its state charter in May 2017. Even amid strong support for the school, BESE voted against allowing BRCA an additional year to show improvement. BESE members Jada Lewis and Kathey Edmonston formally objected to the closure. School officials have said performance scores will raise with more time, dedicated resources, and its new principal, Tale’ Lockett.

“[Parents and administrators] are all on board to make sure we have enough time to continue our success,” said Lockett in a December 6 video. “We’re going to make that mark with continued support.”

In order to do so, charter administrators have to convince the local school board to allow the school to re-open, or transfer, as a Title 2 charter under the governance of the East Baton Rouge Parish School System (EBRP). It’s sister school, South Baton Rouge Charter Academy, is already an EBRP charter.

BRCA has 80 teachers and more than 650 students who would relocate if the transfer isn’t successful. Then, students and their parents would choose to return to their previous public school or select another charter to attend. Middle school students in the attendance zone of Baton Rouge Charter Academy would have four EBR middle schools to attend: Capitol, Park Forest, JK Haynes, and Scotlandville Pre-Engineering. They would also have a choice between Celerity Lanier and Celerity Crestworth. They can also choose to attend a tuition-based private school (School performance scores are available at http://www.louisianabelieves.com/data/reportcards/2016.)

“Statistically, many of these students attempt to return to the public system,” said former BESE representative Carolyn Hill. “There will be an aggressive push to move these students into other state-governed charters and other management groups…it’s about the money. But, this management group has the most resources to help the students.”

“It is a good thing that this charter management group is trying to unify with [EBRP],” Hill said. “A collaboration between this charter—which was once a state charter— and East Baton Rouge Parish Schools would set a precedent statewide and even nationally that says, ‘we are willing to step in and work in partnership to ensure that these children get what they need to succeed.’”

“I believe in local schools controlled by local communities,” Edmundson told the “Baton Rouge Business Report.” “If the locals want a charter, and the local board has responsibility, that makes me feel a lot more comfortable.”

That comfort comes from the local district’s ability to provide additional resources to students including special education services like speech therapists, free lunch programs, shared transportation, and more teacher stability.

“It’s not about a charter movement. Merging together will be a success story, nationwide,” Hill said. “These parents should keep fighting for their children. I would tell each of them, ‘Let the growth in your child be the determining factor‎’.”

The Drum is a member publication of the National Newspaper Publishers Association. Learn more about becoming a member at www.nnpa.org.

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