Charter schools will run RSD next year

The state announced new plans Tuesday for the seven low-performing schools it took over in Baton Rouge, providing space to four charter groups for classes next fall and allowing two schools to sit empty until the following year.

The announcement scrambles the public education map in north Baton Rouge.

The Recovery School District runs two elementaries, three middle and two high schools.

All were chronic low performing schools formerly part of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. They have struggled as part of RSD with low test scores, declining enrollment and frequent staff and leader turnover.

In 2014-15, RSD, a state agency, plans to quit running schools at all in Baton Rouge, opting instead to oversee five-year contracts with private charter school management organizations.

Charter schools are public schools run privately.

RSD will now oversee four elementaries, one middle and one high school. Those schools will occupy five of seven RSD campuses.

Three middle schools will merge into one. That lone school will be on the campus of Crestworth Middle and run by Celerity Educational Group, of Los Angeles. Students now at Glen Oaks and Prescott Middle schools will be redirected to Crestworth.

Similarly, Capitol High and Istrouma High will merge on the Capitol High campus, with Friendship Public Charter Schools, of Washington, D.C., in charge.

The changes mean Glen Oaks Middle and Istrouma High campuses won’t have students at all during the 2014-15 school year.

Instead, they will serve as administrative offices for yet-to-be-named charter school groups that won’t educate students until fall 2015.

Dalton and Lanier elementary schools will see the least change, maintaining students in grades prekindergarten to five, though they will expand to eighth grade in the future.

Family Urban Schools of Excellence will run Dalton while Celerity will take over Lanier.

“Today is positive step forward so that all students can go to an excellent schools regardless of their ZIP code,” said RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard during a news conference held in the library at Lanier Elementary.

Barbara Freiberg, an East Baton Rouge Parish School Board member and a member of an RSD advisory board, said she’s not surprised at which groups made the cut, but didn’t know about the mergers.

“I’m not sure kids in Glen Oaks will go all the way to Crestworth,” she said.

Representatives of three of the four charter school groups starting in 2014 were on hand to speak Tuesday.

“We have a fundamental belief that every single child who walks through our doors will achieve at high levels,” said Craig Knotts, regional vice president for Celerity.

Meghan Turner, leader of Baton Rouge University Prep, which will start a small elementary school on the Prescott Middle campus in 2014, said families in that area have long needed better school options.

“To get a different result, we need a different school,” she said.

Donald Hense, chairman of Friendship, donned a dark blue ballcap with an F on it, a reference to the group’s flagship high school.

He rattled off positive statistics connected with that school and the group’s other high school in the nation’s capital.

“Ninety-five percent of our students graduate in four years,” he said. “One hundred percent go on to college.”

Afterward, Hense said he plans to preserve Capitol’s name and mascot, as well as hire an alumni outreach coordinator.

Bruce Miles, a graduate of Capitol High School and active in that school’s alumni, said for his part he intends to convert Hense into a Capitol High Lions fan.

“I’m personally giving him a red cap with a gold C on it,” Miles said.

Chris Meyer, founder and chief executive officer of New Schools for Baton Rouge, said that in next two weeks, his group will award money to Celerity and FUSE, a first installment of $2 million total.

New Schools is trying to raise $30 million to support new charter schools in north Baton Rouge.

In August, New Schools announced it would offer startup and other financial help to six groups in all.

Besides Celerity and FUSE, that list included Democracy Prep, which is moving into Prescott in 2015, but also three groups not mentioned Tuesday, including Collegiate Academies, KIPP New Orleans and Yes Prep.

Meyer said that of those three, Collegiate Academies and KIPP are still planning to start new schools in fall 2015, while Yes Prep is looking to come later.

Meyer acknowledged that Friendship fell short when New Schools rated charter school groups in August, but said it’s not set in that judgment.

“If Friendship hits a homerun, and we hope they do, we would call them,” Meyer said.

Other approved charter groups seeking space in RSD schools in Baton Rouge but not mentioned during Tuesday’s press conference were Friends of King, J.K. Haynes and Spirit of Excellence.

J.K. Haynes representatives have waged the most public fight for space, specifically at Crestworth Middle. J.K. Haynes has operated a well regarded elementary school in north Baton Rouge since 1997.

Nelson Taylor, an attorney working on behalf of J.K. Haynes, said that Dobard sent J.K. Haynes a message prior to Tuesday’s announcement letting it know it didn’t make the cut. Taylor questioned the wisdom of merging three middle schools in one and giving them to an outside group.

“We’re from this community and you’re talking about turning over something to someone in Los Angeles?” Taylor asked. “Come on! We’ve earned our right to have a chance in our own community.”

In August, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board agreed to let J.K. Haynes expand into the middle school grades.

Taylor said they will do that, at another location, but will be recruiting kids at Crestworth. He said he will also ask RSD to reconsider.

“I think we were arbitrarily rejected because we are not in the in crowd,” he said.