Red River Charter will bus supporters to BESE meeting
It will be a different kind of “school bus” for a “different kind of school” when Red River Charter Academy supporters travel by bus to attend the state Board of Elementary & Secondary Education meeting on Oct. 17. For the third year in a row, BESE’s independent evaluator has recommended the proposed middle school be chartered to open in the 2018-19 school year.
“For the past two years, BESE has ignored their evaluator’s recommendation,” RRCA Board President Jessica Couvillion said. “We are hoping it will be different this year. We are hoping ‘the third time’s the charm.’”
SchoolWorks, BESE’s independent evaluator, uses 87 standards to measure all charter applications and then makes a recommendation based on its evaluation. SchoolWorks graded RRCA 100 percent on all 87 standards.
Couvillion said the recommendation was submitted to state Education Superintendent John White at 6 p.m. last Wednesday (Sept. 6). She has not received any indication as to whether White will let the issue be heard at the Oct. 17 BESE meeting or will once again ask the proposed school’s officials to “negotiate” with Avoyelles Parish School District officials, as he did last year.
In that negotiation, RRCA agreed to several demands from APSD officials, only to be soundly rejected by the local board again. Those concessions have been removed from the proposed school’s plan, so BESE will be acting on the same proposal it has seen in the past.
RRCA proposes to open with grades 6-8 with 166 students. It will add a high school grade each year until it is a 6-12 high school with 390 students. At this time, the school has an option on the former Garan plant building. However, Couvillion said the former Mansura High/Middle complex is also attractive.
She said White has contacted RRCA officials prior to the meeting date in the past to give them an idea of what he will recommend to BESE.
“I expect he will call us in a few weeks,” she added.
BESE tied, 5-5, on the school’s application last school year. Dr. Gary Jones, now BESE president, abstained because he also serves as the Avoyelles School Board’s desegregation consultant. It takes six votes -- regardless of abstentions or absences -- to approve an application.
‘GET ON THE BUS'
This year RRCA will be taking a bus to Baton Rouge so “supporters of school choice can stand up and be counted. The BESE members need to know that school choice is important to people and that there are those in this community who support it,” Couvillion said. “Stand up and be counted. Get on the bus and leave the driving to us.”
For more information or to sign up for the bus trip, call or text 318-359-7051, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the school’s Facebook page.
Couvillion said several of the BESE members who voted against granting the charter cited concerns that the new school would upset the APSD desegregation order. She noted that local desegregation is not supposed to be a concern of the state board. If approved by BESE, the school would have to submit its proposal to U.S. District Judge Dee Drell before it could open. Allen Holmes, the plaintiff in the desegregation suit, is an outspoken supporter of RRCA's charter application.
Couvillion noted BESE should have no deseg-related concerns this year since the school district will be removed from federal court supervision before the school would open.
BLACK CLOUD HANGING
A black cloud still hanging over the process is whether state funding for charter schools such as Red River will be allowed after this year. The Louisiana Supreme Court held a hearing Sept. 5 on an appeal of an appeals court ruling that charter schools do not meet the definition of a public school under state law and allocating state Minimum Foundation Program dollars to those schools is unconstitutional.
Funding of the state-approved Type II charter schools was allowed to continue until the matter is resolved by the state Supreme Court.
The justices gave no indication Tuesday when a ruling would be handed down.
Red River Charter will not be just another school with the only difference being a selective enrollment system rather than a zoned assignment system, Couvillion said.
“RRCA board members are often asked ‘What makes RRCA different from the Avoyelles public schools,’” she said. “There are many differences that make RRCA unique.”
The school will use a STEM-based curriculum, emphasizing science, technology, engineering and math.
“We will NOT be using Eureka Math,” Couvillion emphasized. “We’ve chosen to use the tried-and-true Saxon math method.”
In addition, the curriculum will include the “Character Counts!” program, which “teaches kids social skills and ethics in conjunction with academics.”
RRCA teachers will provide individualized instruction to every student on a daily basis to reinforce skills learned in class.
“This is called RTI, or Response to Intervention,” Couvillion said. “Students will also receive longer instructional time for core subjects, such as Math and English/Language Arts, to reinforce and develop a stronger understanding of these subjects.”
Couvillion said the proposed school will be a free public school with no tuition costs.
In a not-so-subtle dig at the School Board, Couvillion said it is “important to point out that our board members are volunteers. This means we are NOT paid with your tax dollars -- which leaves more funding available to directly benefit students.”