New middle school to open in Scotlandville in the fall

New charter gets late start, awaits move into permanent location

Even as other new charter schools are running TV ads to promote themselves, the leaders of J.K. Haynes Middle School are relying mostly on word of mouth.

“The word is getting around,” said Roeshay Patrick, whose daughter Karolyn is going to be in sixth grade at the new school in the Scotlandville area of Baton Rouge.

Time, though, is running short. The 2014-15 school year starts Aug. 11.

The new school will hold classes at the former Banks Elementary School, 2401 72nd Ave., but that building won’t be ready to move into until July 1 at the earliest because its current occupant, North Banks Middle, has yet to complete its move to a new location.

So for now, J.K. Haynes Middle School is operating 10 blocks north at a handful of tables covered with paper in the library of its parent school, J.K. Haynes Charter Elementary, 8600 Elm Grove Garden Drive.

Jane Gillette, who has worked as a fifth-grade teacher and the librarian at the elementary school, will serve as principal of the new middle school. Gillette said she and others have been late in getting the word out because for many months, they didn’t know where the new school would be located.

She said about 100 students have signed up for the new middle school, including most of the current elementary school’s fifth grade. The middle school is aiming for much bigger first-day enrollment, 250 to 300 students at least, up to 400 with any luck in grades sixth through eighth.

That’s roughly twice the size of its elementary school founded in 1997, which has only 250 students enrolled in seven grades. About 85 percent of the students are black.

J.K. Haynes is named after a famed black educator who for years ran the segregation-era all black Louisiana Education Association until it merged in 1977 with the white teacher’s union, the Louisiana Association of Educators. He died in 1997, just as the school in his name was opening.

The elder Haynes’ son, Maurice, was a founder of the school — he died in 2005 — and his vision continues to shape the school he left behind.

Diana Haynes, Maurice Hayne’s wife, remains the school’s director. She said her deceased husband envisioned a series of schools all the way from elementary school to college.

“He wanted the whole thing,” she recalled. “He wanted people to have a choice.”

J.K. Haynes Charter Elementary was one of the first three charter schools approved by the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board in 1997 and has long maintained friendly relations with the school system. It moved onto the campus at 8600 Elm Grove Garden Road, formerly Harding Elementary, in January 2007.

Nelson Taylor, a board member for J.K. Haynes, said parents over time pushed the administration to expand into middle school grades. He said the school offers a quality “basic education” and works hard to keep parents involved and children enthused.

“We develop children to believe in themselves,” Taylor said.

The school is typically among the higher performing, non-magnet elementary schools in Baton Rouge. It currently has a grade of C. Its third and fourth grades usually outperform the rest of East Baton Rouge Parish and the rest of the state on standardized tests, though its fifth grade tends to score behind both the parish and the state.

When it did finally launch its push for a middle school, J.K. Haynes sought unsuccessfully to gain control of Crestworth Middle School, despite strong support from several local politicians.

Crestworth Middle School was taken over by the state-run Recovery School District in 2009 after chronic low academic performance. A homegrown charter school group based at nearby Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church was unable to turn the school around and enrollment plummeted. Without an open enrollment middle school campus in Scotlandville, East Baton Rouge Parish has for years bused Scotlandville-area middle school students across town to Park Forest Middle School.

In October, Los Angeles-based Celerity Educational Group was given control of Crestworth Middle and it will go head to head with J.K. Haynes this August.

Instead of working with the state, J.K. Haynes was able to persuade the parish School Board to grant it a charter for a new middle school.

“It’s probably for the best,” said Diana Haynes.

The new middle school will add features over time to build upon the “basic education” of the elementary school.

So, in year one, the school will focus on performing arts, including dance, drama, speech, visual arts, choir and starting a jazz band, a style of music founder Maurice Haynes loved.

In year two, the school will add health care, again a nod to an area of interest to Maurice Haynes.

Gillette has served as a school principal, including a spell as principal of Capitol Middle School in Baton Rouge in the late 1990s.

Diana Haynes promised that she will give Gillette a free hand since her own background is in elementary schools.

“I don’t even know how to spell middle,” Haynes joked.

The school has an enrollment application posted online, but for information school leaders recommend calling the elementary school at (225) 774-1311.