Livonia High to take in 180 new students in the fall

The looming shutdown of Pointe Coupee Central High School has some residents questioning whether Livonia High School will be able to handle the influx of new students next school year, and at least one School Board member is open to reopening the shuttered school after a year of standing empty.

U.S. District Judge James J. Brady’s April 7 decision to shut down Pointe Coupee Central came at the request of the state’s Recovery School District, which in March asked the court to return jurisdiction to the Pointe Coupee Parish School Board after six years under the state’s umbrella.

Central’s closure will force its more than 180 students to attend Livonia High in the fall.

But many parents and community leaders think Livonia High has a campus too small to handle the more than 1,000 students during the 2014-15 school year.

“We have no problem with consolidating. We don’t mind coming together,” said the Rev. Carl Terrance, pastor of Greater St. Peter Baptist Church in New Roads. “But to have the only high school on the far end of the parish is not fair. It’s not fair to the parish as a whole. We’re not going to accept that because it’s not making any sense. I just can’t imagine how this decision was made.”

Terrance leads the opposition against the consolidation to Livonia.

In its motions, RSD said relocating Pointe Coupee Central’s students to Livonia would ensure the students graduated high school on time and would be better prepared for post-secondary studies and career opportunities.

Within the past five years, Livonia High has raised its letter grade from a D to a C in the Louisiana Department of Education’s annual district performance reports.

In 2013, Pointe Coupee Central High received an F from the state.

After the RSD’s takeover, Pointe Coupee Central opened as a charter school in summer 2008 under the management of Advance Baton Rouge, a nonprofit organization.

At the time, 549 students attended the school. But after one year under Advance Baton Rouge’s operation, the school’s standardized test scores and enrollment plummeted, and reports of disorderedly student conduct and several administrative changes emerged.

Performance at the school didn’t improve after the RSD assumed operational control in fall 2012.

Terrance’s group stormed the school district’s office during the School Board’s regular meeting on March 20 hoping to persuade board members not to support RSD’s proposed motion to consolidate the two schools at Livonia High.

However, the group only managed to gain the support of board members Chad Aguillard and Thomas Nelson — the two dissenting votes in the board’s 6-2 decision to support RSD’s motion.

Board members Frank Aguillard, Les Ann Grezaffi, Brandon Bergeron, James “Bado” Cline, Kevin Hotard and Anita LeJeune voted in favor of the effort.

Frank Aguillard, board president, felt the board could not ignore the decision of Livonia High students who chose to attend that school over Central.

“That’s important,” Aguillard said. “I understand the concern of those (Central-area) parents; I have compassion for them. But we have about 900 students at Livonia, and those people have contacted me also. I wish the kids at Pointe Coupee Central could continue to attend that school, but the federal judge made that decision.”

Cline, who represents much of the Livonia area, echoed Aguillard’s sentiments but added that Livonia is the more logical choice because of its community atmosphere and track record of academic success.

“At Livonia, I think we have the best desegregation program in the state,” he said. “There aren’t too many parishes you can go into that have a racially mixed high school that’s successful. If we closed Livonia and tried to send their teachers and staff to Central, they would go somewhere else — probably another parish where they can make more money. But those teachers aren’t leaving now because that’s their community school. People in Livonia support their school.”

But Chad Aguillard said having Central serve as the parish’s lone high school should be more appealing to board members because the campus has the capacity to house at least 1,200 students, is more centrally located, most of the students that currently attend Livonia High already live outside the Livonia city limits and he harbors safety concerns regarding Livonia’s ability to adequately house an influx of students.

He said his focus will turn to advocating Pointe Coupee Central as the parish’s public high school as the School Board fulfills another stipulation in Brady’s order, which states it must submit a plan to the court within six months outlining the district’s planned use of the Pointe Coupee Central campus and student assignments for the 2015-16 school year.

“We have talked about some things but nothing formal,” Chad Aguillard said. “At this point, unless the discussions are centered around Central being the high school for citizens in the parish, I won’t be able to get on board with anything.”