Parents, students learn about new charter schools

Parents considering a charter school option for their children should first consider whether it’s the right choice for their child and their family, a charter school principal from Lake Charles said Tuesday.

“I can tell you hands down, yes, but that’s the decision for you and your family,” said Lorette Bass, principal of Southwest Louisiana Charter Academy, a school managed by the Florida company Charter Schools USA.

Bass shared experiences about her school, now in its second year of operation, and basics about Charter Schools USA school operations during an informational session Tuesday in Lafayette for parents interested in one of two new charter schools the company plans to open by August.

The schools will open in partnership with a local nonprofit organization, Lafayette Charter Foundation .

Tuesday’s session was focused on Lafayette Renaissance Charter Academy, a school under construction off of Pont des Mouton Road in the new Couret Farms neighborhood development.

Informational sessions for a second school, the Acadiana Renaissance Charter Academy, are planned for Youngsville beginning Tuesday. That school is under construction on Savoy Road, near Sugar Mill Pond.

Next year, both schools will enroll students in grades K through six and the application period for both campuses closes on March 14.

Nearly 30 adults from Lafayette, St. Landry and St. Martin parishes attended the Tuesday session with questions about transportation, tutoring services, class sizes and the types of electives that would be offered in the first school the company opens.

Transportation services aren’t planned at this time for either campus. In response to questions about students in low-income north Lafayette neighborhoods being able to access the school, Bass said her school does not offer bus service, but helps parents make carpool connections.

“Parents find a way,” Bass said.

Parent Rachael St. Julien said she was interested in submitting applications to Lafayette Renaissance Charter Academy for her 8-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son, who attend S.J. Montgomery Elementary.

“We like (Montgomery), but we’re looking for better,” St. Julien said. “My daughter needs more attention and hands-on learning.”

Enrollment in the schools is open to any student in the state.

Corey Capritto’s son doesn’t start kindergarten until next year, but he attended Tuesday’s meeting to see how early the family could apply for a spot at either charter school.

“I’ve done a lot of research and there’s a lot of benefits that I see like the quality of education,” said Capritto, of St. Martinville. “You basically get a private school education for a public school price.”

Capritto said he’s also attracted to the schools’ model of required parental involvement.

Bass said parents must commit 20 hours each school year and 10 more hours if additional children attend.

“We don’t want your money as much as we want your time, but we’ll take your money,” Bass joked.

The parental involvement helps strengthen the school-family relationship, she said.

“Not only do we get to know the child, but we get to know the family,” Bass said.

The school schedule likely will begin at 8 a.m. with a 2:45 p.m. dismissal for grades K-2 and 3 p.m. dismissal for older students. Before- and after-school care will be offered, possibly as early as 7 a.m. and as late as 6 p.m.

Decisions such as which electives and extracurricular activities are offered are made by the principal and based on student interest, Bass said. Foreign language, music, art, technology and physical education are typically part of students’ schedules, she said.

Charter Schools USA students also have the opportunity to take college preparatory courses through a program offered by Cambridge University in England, Bass said. Students who take the Cambridge courses can leave middle school with high school credit and leave a Charter Schools USA high school with college credit.

The Lafayette Charter Foundation plans to open a Charter Schools USA high school by 2017.

In north Lafayette, another new charter school — Willow Charter Academy — also will open to students in August under the management of a different charter management company, National Heritage Academies.

Its enrollment period ends March 31 for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Willow Charter plans to add a grade level each year through grade eight.