Federal grant could help Lafayette schools expand options

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- In this April 2012 file photo, Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy robotics team members, from left, Joseph Landry, Jacob Evans and Tyler Guillory work on a mock-up of a machine they are entering in a national competition. The Lafayette Parish school district plans to apply for a federal grant that would help it strengthen science, technology, engineering and math educational pathways. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- In this April 2012 file photo, Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy robotics team members, from left, Joseph Landry, Jacob Evans and Tyler Guillory work on a mock-up of a machine they are entering in a national competition. The Lafayette Parish school district plans to apply for a federal grant that would help it strengthen science, technology, engineering and math educational pathways.

The Lafayette Parish school district plans to apply for a competitive federal grant to help it expand and offer new schools of choice options focused on science, technology, engineering and math disciplines.

About $4 million to $12 million in funding is available through the competitive, three-year federal Magnet Schools Assistance grant program, district schools of choice program Supervisor Burnell LeJeune told School Board members last week. The district previously received about $11 million through the grant program for its schools of choice program, he said.

The grant is designed to help districts “reduce minority isolation,” improve student and school performance, and strengthen or develop new schools of choice, LeJeune said. Preference is typically given to schools of choice themes endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education — which currently is science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, disciplines, he said.

The district has a STEM academy for middle school and high school students at the David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy. The grant funding could help create feeder schools into Thibodaux and other technology- or science-focused high school academies, LeJeune said.

He proposed creating two elementary academies — one focused on science, technology, engineering, arts and math, or STEAM, at Alice Boucher Elementary and another on STEM at Live Oak Elementary.

Both locations are in close proximity to existing programs at Thibodaux and the Academy of Information Technology at Carencro High, LeJeune said.

The grant also could fund an expansion of STEM at Lafayette Middle School to build on its existing environmental sciences academy, LeJeune said.

“Students would be immersed in STEM with the environmental science focus,” he said.

As part of the grant, LeJeune proposed the district strengthen the information technology academy at Carencro High and create a new communication and arts technology academy at Northside High.

The grant information and proposed academies were presented to the board at its Feb. 6 meeting and submission of the grant application awaits board approval.

LeJeune said Wednesday that grant award notification is between July and September. If chosen, staff would be able to fully develop the new programs for students to enroll in the 2014-15 school year.

The district offers about 20 different schools of choice options for students that enable them to focus on future career interests and in foreign language immersion studies. Space is limited in the schools of choice options, so students must apply for a spot in a program. The application process for spots for the upcoming school year closed Jan. 31 and 3,382 students applied, said Randall Domingue, the district’s schools of choice marketing and recruitment coordinator.

Some students applied to two academies for a total of 4,014 applications, Domingue said.

“That’s a little less than last year,” Domingue said. “In the past, people were able to apply for multiple programs and this year, they could only apply for two.”

The decline in applications was expected because “we have so many students who are choice students already,” Domingue said.

About 5,700 students are enrolled in schools of choice programs, according to district data.

A computerized lottery to announce the selection of students for available seats in the programs will be held over three days at 5:30 p.m. at the Vermilion Conference Center. The first lottery is for elementary grade-level academies on Feb. 25, followed by middle school academies on Feb. 26 and high school academies on Feb. 28.