Kenner charter welcomed

As plans for Kenner’s first charter school firm up, the city’s public officials are buzzing, particularly since a chunk of the spots at the school will be set aside for Kenner residents.

Kenner officials have been discussing the opening of the Discovery Health Sciences Academy Charter School for months, but the Kenner City Council officially welcomed the group at its meeting last week. Dr. Patty Glaser, the school’s chief executive officer, gave the council a brief overview on how the school will operate and how it will select students. She told the council that Kenner residents are guaranteed preferential enrollment for 40 percent of available seats at the school.

Glaser said school officials hope to take some national models for operating charter schools with a health science focus and repurpose them for an elementary school. Typically schools that focus on health sciences are limited to middle schoolers and high schoolers, but Glaser said it’s never too early to learn about healthy lifestyle choices.

While the school will still teach the standard elementary school curriculum, it will get students acclimated to ideas in one of the fastest growing professions in the country. The flexibility charter schools have in crafting their own curriculum is what draws many parents to them, particularly in the young professional demographic Jefferson Parish is hoping to target.

“We aim to grow the health care professionals of the future,” Glaser told the council. “We really believe it will be a national model for health sciences… It provides educational choice for families.”

Council members gushed over Glaser’s plans. She noted that although the Jefferson Parish School Board approved a five-year lease of the former Joseph Maggiore Elementary School, eventually the academy hopes to have a new permanent facility at Vintage Drive and Loyola Drive on vacant property there.

School leaders want to open a total of three different facilities on both sides of the Mississippi River by 2016, Glaser said.

Mayor Mike Yenni’s economic development committee has long pointed to the opening of a charter school as a key piece of Kenner’s future growth. Yenni said Glaser’s plans will bring the city one step closer to its ultimate goal.

“This was one of the first things we were able to check off that box,” Yenni told the council.

Councilman Kent Denapolis noted that Kenner tried to get Holy Cross School to relocate to the Vintage Drive site after Katrina, but that deal fell through.

He said it’s becoming clear that charter schools are the way education is trending, and those schools with targeted curriculums are particularly popular.

“That’s just going to be a tremendous addition to what Kenner can offer its residents,” Denapolis said.

Although the school is an open enrollment facility, it will give special preference to city residents, Glaser said. Those children who live within an area bounded by Lake Pontchartrain, the city’s Duncan Canal, the Jefferson Parish and St. Charles Parish line and Interstate 10 will get first choice for up to 25 percent of the school’s available slots. The next 15 percent of available seats will go to any city residents, and the remainder will be available to everyone in the parish, Glaser said.

The school will start with pre-K through third grades, along with grades five and six. Glaser plans to add three more grades within two years. Councilman Joe Stagni even promised to do some street repairs around the school, as a sort of welcome gift that nearby residents also will appreciate.

“I have no doubt that this is going to be very successful,” Stagni said.