Charter school to begin taking applications

Applications for a new charter school planned for north Lafayette will be accepted in late January, school organizers said Monday during a meeting of the school’s board.

Willow Charter Academy is set to open in mid-August with seats available for 492 students in grades kindergarten through fifth.

The school is part of Louisiana Achievement Charter Academies, a small network of schools that, for now, includes only one other location — Advantage Charter Academy planned to open in August in Baker.

The nonprofit board partnered with National Heritage Academies, a Michigan-based charter school management company, to manage the schools.

The LACA board met Monday in Baton Rouge and approved the number of seats it will offer to students in August and its admissions and enrollment policy for its Lafayette and Baker schools.

At Advantage Charter, there will be 464 seats offered while at Willow Charter in Lafayette, 492 seats will be offered.

The number of seats are conservative estimates and fewer seats were made available in the upper grades based on first-year enrollments at other NHA charter schools, said Megan DeKraker, NHA new charter school development director.

“Our experience is that fourth- and fifth- grade parents are less likely to leave their schools,” she said.

Both schools will expand by adding a grade each year through the eighth grade.

For now, plans for the Lafayette and Baker schools are on target with negotiations underway for property purchases, DeKraker said after the meeting.

A letter of intent to purchase an existing property to house the school has been signed, but details of the location won’t be released until a contract is finalized, DeKraker said. The site is on Willow Street, she confirmed.

Baker’s shuttered Wal-Mart store will be renovated to house Advantage Charter Academy. A contract has been signed, but the purchase has not been finalized, DeKraker said.

Board member Walter Morales asked how contractors tackle the issue of ensuring classrooms have adequate natural light when they renovate big box stores.

DeKraker said designers are innovative and use skylights or devise other designs to add natural light to classroom space.

Jay Miller of Lafayette said he was confident the schools would open on schedule.

“We yield to their expertise and their lead time on a site,” said Miller, pastor of Family Life Church. “They’re telling us we’re on target with everything.”

DeKraker said new construction typically takes 20 weeks and renovation requires less time.

“We feel really positive about where we are timeline-wise,” she said.

Parents can learn more about the schools during informational meetings planned for both schools at the end of the month, though dates and meeting sites have not been finalized. Application at both schools is open to students across the state.

The board’s network may grow to include Caddo Parish. The Caddo Parish School Board rejected the LACA board’s application to open a charter school in Shreveport in December and the charter board plans to appeal to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in March, DeKraker said.

The Baker and Lafayette schools were both authorized by BESE after their respective local school boards rejected the applications.

The board’s next meeting will be Feb. 10 in Lafayette at the offices of Family Life Church.

Willow Academy is one of three K-8 charter schools set to open in Lafayette Parish in August. The other two schools belong to the Lafayette Charter Foundation and will be operated by a Florida-based charter management company, Charter Schools USA. They’ll be located in Couret Farms off of Pont des Mouton Road and Sugar Mill Pond in Youngsville. Dates for informational meetings for those schools have not been announced.