Pointe Coupee board to wait on opening Central High as a career academy

A plan by Superintendent Linda D’Amico to transform Pointe Coupee Central High into a college readiness and career academy holds such promise that two School Board members want that academy to start in the fall.

But that was too soon for D’Amico, whose plan calls for opening the academy in August 2015 and who expressed doubts she could properly staff the new program to open this August.

And six other board members backed her up Thursday, defeating with a 2-6 vote a motion by board member Tom Nelson to open Central High as the Pointe Coupee Early College/Career Academy this fall.

The board will revisit the ambitious effort as early as next month, after board members meet with the superintendent to work out their concerns.

Board member Chad Aguillard supported Nelson’s motion, arguing he didn’t want to see the campus closed for an entire school year given the controversy surrounding its shutdown this summer.

Central’s shutdown was forced by U.S. District Judge James J. Brady’s April 7 decision to close the school at the request of the state’s Recovery School District.

The RSD asked the court in March to return jurisdiction of the school to the parish School Board. The state had failed to improve the struggling school’s academic performance during the six years the school was operated under the state’s umbrella.

The more than 180 students who attended the school have been ordered transferred to Livonia High in the fall, making it the lone public high school for the parish.

Brady also ordered the School Board to submit a plan to the court within six months outlining the district’s proposed use of the PC Central campus and student assignments for the 2015-2016 school year.

“The only thing holding us back at this point is whether or not the judge will approve this plan,” Aguillard said. “I think we could start this in the upcoming school year if it’s something we made the top priority.”

But board members James Cline and Brandon Bergeron shared the superintendent’s reservations about trying to implement such a complex and extensive program so quickly.

“You’re asking someone to start something up in one month,” Cline said.

Bergeron added: “I think we should have given parents the opportunity to see if they would embrace this framework. This will take a recruiting process (to hire qualified staff). I’m not going to just do something off the cuff.”

Board members Frank Aguillard, Les Ann Grezaffi, Kevin Hotard and Anita LeJeune joined Cline and Bergeron in voting against Nelson and Chad Aguillard’s motion to implement the program in August.

That plan would cost the district approximately $1.5 million in its first year. The superintendent said she based that figure on hiring the necessary staff and faculty to educate 183 students.

As an early college and career academy, Central would offer students an extensive number of dual-enrollment opportunities so they could earn their high school diplomas and associate degrees simultaneously, or an industry-based certification that would enable them to enter the workforce immediately after they graduate.

D’Amico’s proposal, which would entail a partnership with Baton Rouge Community College and other local businesses, includes curricula in business, computer network engineering, electrical, agricultural science, health services and manufacturing.

“For years and years this school has not been a success,” D’Amico said. “We have to start it off right and make it right. The goal is to increase student population at school then increase (state) dollars we’re getting so the school can be successful.”

D’Amico’s plan will need to get court approval before it can move forward.

The board hopes to revisit the matter by its next regular meeting in July.

“When that school was taken over by the state, it wasn’t done right. … That school was neglected for six years by the state,” board President Frank Aguillard said. “We have an opportunity to do something no one in the state has done. And it cannot be done in 30 to 40 days.”

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Editor’s note: This story was changed on Friday, June 27, 2014, to correct the first name of Tom Nelson.