WASHINGTON — Sen. Mary Landrieu on Wednesday celebrated National Charter Schools Week by linking up online with students from Baton Rouge’s young Mentorship Academy charter school.
Landrieu, who has supported the charter school movement for many years, said she is pleased progress is being made in the Baton Rouge area after years of resistance.
“There was so much political resistance that it was almost set up to fail,” said Landrieu, D-La., while chatting in her Senate office after completing her video Skype session with the Baton Rouge ninth-graders.
She criticized the past, anti-charter school efforts of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board that, she said, saw charter schools as threats and would only approve charters that had “little potential to succeed.”
Since then, much more progress is being made, Landrieu said, although she acknowledged the Louisiana’s charter schools have represented a mixed bag of successes and failures.
“That is the nature of the charter movement,” Landrieu said. “There are going to be successes and failures. But the thing about charter schools is you can do something about it. You can pull their charter.”
That is the “genius” of the movement, she said, that allows the schools to be more nimble while the state struggles with traditional public schools that struggle year after year with little changes.
“What worries me is the inability to correct your failure,” Landrieu said.
While New Orleans is fairly “mature” in its charter schools growth, largely because of the damage Hurricane Katrina caused to the already-struggling traditional schools, the rest of the state is mostly in the “infant stages” of charter growth, she said.
Charter schools are public schools overseen by nongovernmental panels that are intended to try more innovative education curriculums.
The Mentorship Academy opened less than two years ago in a downtown Baton Rouge office building on Florida Street. The school’s education focuses on digital media, science and technology, said the teacher, Brendan O’Kelly, who is with the Teach For America organization.
The school only has ninth and 10th grades, thus far, and the school’s mentoring programs are in development, he said, noting that many of the students should end up becoming first-generation college students.
Citing the mentorship from her father, former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu, as well as other family members and teachers, Sen. Landrieu urged the students to become proactive and seek out mentors and advisers, whether they are family members, community members or even LSU professors.
“You all have to take responsibility to find your own mentor,” she told the students. “You’re old enough now to understand … Ask around; take the initiative.”
While the students may not have “sports fields” and lots of extracurricular club opportunities at the small school, Landrieu said, she urged them to put academics first and thrive in the college-preparatory setting.
She told the students that charter schools are evidence that “your money is on the ground” and going into the classrooms and not “locked away” in some district office. The goal is to ensure charter school students receive as much per-pupil funding as their counterparts in traditional schools, she added.
Landrieu noted she is continuing to push in the U.S. Senate for a $255 million federal appropriation to charter schools that would funnel the dollars into such schools.
She also is doing online sessions with students this week in charter schools in New Orleans and Lake Charles.
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