THRIVE Charter Academy deal should allow it to expand in Baton Rouge

Deal struck with board to secure money for construction

An inner-city boarding school has worked out a deal with the East Baton Rouge Parish school system that will allow the high-performing charter school to secure financing to build a new campus at 2825 Brightside Drive.

The School Board on Thursday authorized Superintendent Bernard Taylor to amend THRIVE Charter Academy’s current contract so the school has five, not three, years of operation. With the change, after THRIVE finishes the third year, the School Board will conduct a formal review and can end the contract if the school’s performance is sub-par.

The original contract, struck in 2012, called for only three years of operation, but Domoine Rutledge, the school system’s general counsel, said that is contrary to state law in effect at the time, and state law prevails.

“By law, she gets the five years, subject to a three-year renewal,” Rutledge said.

Sarah Broome, founder of the school, thanked the board for the move.

“I think this is a prime example of what the School Board and a charter school can do together,” she said.

Broome had asked the board to take the unusual step of renewing her charter after just two years, based upon the school’s higher-than-average test scores so far.

Rutledge ultimately determined that would not be legal.

Broome said she’s already spoken with the financial institutions she’s working with on the school expansion and they are comfortable loaning the money needed based on five-year, rather than a three-year, contract.

In just two years, THRIVE Charter Academy has leapt into the ranks of the higher-performing public middle schools in Baton Rouge. Its 50 sixth- and seventh-graders are outperforming their peers in the school system and the state in every subject except seventh-grade science.

Social studies has shown the most growth. In spring testing, almost every student at THRIVE was proficient in that subject, meaning they performed at grade level or better. When those students were in fifth grade, before coming to THRIVE, roughly two-thirds performed below grade level.

THRIVE, which opened in August 2012, leases space at the Family Youth Service Center on Government Street, but will run out of room there in the next two years.

It plans to add a grade at a time until it reaches 12th grade. Target enrollment is about 350 students.

From the beginning, the charter school sought a larger location for a school.

Last fall, the school finalized the $1.2 million purchase of 7.5 acres on Brightside Drive, south of LSU. Grace and Hebert Architects in Baton Rouge is designing the new campus, including academic space, dormitories and athletic facilities.

“Our goal is to break ground in August,” Broome said. “We still have a number of obstacles to overcome before then.”

She said the school is seeking a mix of traditional bank financing and nontraditional methods, particularly New Market Tax Credits, which are federal tax benefits for lenders who put up money for community projects in underserved communities.