Lafayette charter schools prepare to open in August

Renovations of the shuttered Albertson’s adjacent to the Northgate Mall will begin sometime this spring to transform the former grocery store into Willow Charter Academy, one of three new charter schools in Lafayette set to open in August.

The location is within walking distance for students the school targets, said Jay Miller, a member of the charter school’s board, Louisiana Achievement Charter Academies.

“We’re not providing bus service, so we felt it was essential that neighborhood kids would have an opportunity to come to school and have easy access to the school,” Miller said.

Willow Charter Academy is to be managed by the Michigan charter management company National Heritage Academies.

The school’s board, Louisiana Achievement Charter Academies, met Monday in Lafayette.

Its members represent a small network of NHA-managed schools that for now include Lafayette and Baker.

Miller said the board will lease the Albertson’s building from its charter management company. The lease agreement has not been finalized.

The 52,309-square-foot building sits on 5.5 acres and was priced at $2.2 million, according to listing information on the commercial real estate website loopnet.com.

As of Monday, Willow Charter Academy received 241 applications for its available 492 seats in grades kindergarten through five. The school’s open enrollment period closes March 31.

Enrollment for Willow Charter and the other two charter schools in Lafayette Parish is open to elementary students statewide.

The other two charter schools, Lafayette Renaissance Charter Academy and Acadiana Renaissance Charter Academy, are managed by a different charter management company, Charter Schools USA, and a separate school board, the Lafayette Charter Foundation.

The Lafayette Charter Foundation has been meeting with parents interested in its two schools: Acadiana Renaissance Charter Academy, under construction near the Sugar Mill Pond neighborhood development in Youngsville, and the academy’s sister school, Lafayette Renaissance Charter Academy, under construction in the Couret Farms neighborhood development off Pont des Mouton Road.

Informational sessions about both Renaissance schools continue in the next few weeks and the enrollment period for the two schools closes March 14.

As of Friday, Lafayette Renaissance received 116 applications and Acadiana Renaissance received 208 applications, said Mary Louella Cook, Lafayette Charter Foundation president.

She said both campuses will accept a total of 560 students on each campus.

At the foundation’s first informational session last week, the lack of transportation was questioned by some in the audience. Cook said the question is frequently asked and the board will consider potential solutions based on the needs of the families who decide to enroll their children at the school.

“I’m almost certain in the very near future we’ll have to address this, but initially, the way we’ve set it up, we’ll have to wait and see how many are being impacted by lack of transportation,” Cook said.

Last year, the Lafayette Parish School Board rejected charter applications submitted from the organizers of Willow Charter and the Renaissance Charter schools.

They, in turn, applied for authorization from the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The schools, which received support from BESE, are allowed to enroll students statewide.

This year, the Lafayette Parish School Board received only one letter of intent for a proposed charter school. The letter was filed by Aleashia Clarkston on behalf of Kingdom Builder Community Development Corp. for a high school.

The deadline for the charter school application, which has not yet been submitted, is March 7. On Tuesday, Clarkston declined to offer details about the charter school plans.

Last year, Clarkston received a grant from the Louisiana Department of Education that enabled her to spend a year as an apprentice administrator at Acadiana High School.

Clarkston previously told The Advocate she applied for the grant to gain experience in a high-performing, high-poverty school in preparation to open her own school.