Board: Career Academy will close at end of school year

After months of fruitless efforts to secure a home, the board of directors of Career Academy agreed unanimously Wednesday the career-oriented high school will close its doors next month when this school year ends.

The board is holding off a decision on whether to relinquish the school’s five-year charter with the East Baton Rouge Parish school system. The charter is not scheduled to expire until 2016.

The closure of Career Academy means about 190 ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders will have to find another high school this fall. The senior class of about 50 students is set to graduate in May.

Nancy Roberts, executive director of the Louisiana Resource Center for Educators, the organization that launched the charter school in fall 2011, said she’s called everyone she can think of.

As it stands, she said, the school will no longer be welcome on the two north Baton Rouge school campuses where it occupies space.

Board members asked if there were any other options.

“Someone would have to find you a location,” Roberts said with resignation.

“To me this is just a killer,” said board member Glenn Redd, of Triad Electric & Controls of Baton Rouge. “It’s against everything we’ve been trying to accomplish.”

Some parents and students were alternately pleading and defiant at the meeting Wednesday night as they learned the news.

Rhonda Boe said she moved to Baton Rouge so her son could learn welding at the school.

“If there’s anyone with a building or funding and you’re watching, help these kids,” Boe pleaded.

Cathy McKinley, a registered nurse and teacher at Career Academy, said she worked this year with 17 seniors who interned at Baton Rouge General Medical Center.

“They are already getting job offers,” she said.

Navia Jones, a senior who wants to become a psychologist, said Career Academy prepared her well for the hospital work.

Her guardian, Kenyata Jones, was indignant at the school’s pending closure.

“They are robbing these children of their future,” she said.

Starting in 2007, LRCE brought together a consortium of industry leaders to help form the school.

Board member Jimmy Sylvester, of Turner Industries, said Career Academy is filling a huge local demand for people in skilled trades.

“Many of us in industry see this as a huge loss,” Sylvester said.

Career Academy has undergone a succession of leaders, changes in teaching staff, high-profile student fights, low test scores as well as difficulty finding a permanent home.

The school earned an F academic rating its first two years in operation and its score actually decreased in year two even as many other local schools improved.

Despite its negative label, the charter school’s enrollment has continued to increase.

Principal Mandy LaCerte, who was promoted from assistant principal to principal in January, handed out projections Wednesday showing the school would likely improve by 10 points this school year and in another year, once it began getting credit for its graduates, would likely improve from an F to a C.

DeAndre Northern, a sophomore, said other schools gave up on him, but not Career Academy.

“They make you feel like you are in a better place, like you are in church or something,” Northern said.

“DeAndre, I thought I’d never hear those words come out of your mouth,” responded an emotional LeCerte. “There are so many other DeAndres out there.”

Career Academy holds its core classes at the old Brookstown Elementary School, 4375 E. Brookstown Drive. In 2012, Career Academy signed a five-year lease for space from the state-run Recovery School District at Capitol High School, 1000 N. 23rd St.

It fixed up several unused shops and rooms and for its automotive, welding, scaffolding and culinary classes.

School leaders have sought for years to move into Capitol High permanently.

Roberts said she had a phone conversation Sept. 11 with RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard and obtained a verbal promise to let Career Academy locate at Capitol with a still-to-be-determined charter school.

Roberts said she was never able to get RSD to make good on that promise.

Dobard denied Wednesday ever making a commitment to locate Career Academy at Capitol.

Career Academy’s fate was further sealed when East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Bernard Taylor announced plans last fall, adopted by the School Board in January, to take back Brookstown for use as a middle school.

Roberts said she’s tried without success to reach an agreement with the charter school management group that RSD ended up placing at Capitol High: Friendship Public Charter School, of Washington, D.C.

Friendship’s new school, which will be called Capitol High, is opening in August.

In an email, Donald Hense, founder and chairman of Friendship, said Friendship is already trying to absorb students from both Capitol High and Istrouma High in its new high school.

”Having a third formal high school program in one facility with different goals and objectives will make what is already going to be a difficult job even more so,” Hense said.