Walter Pierce

Charter group vows to forge ahead

by Walter Pierce

Despite a unanimous vote by the Lafayette Parish School Board this week rejecting its application to form a public charter school, a Lafayette non-profit group says it will move on to plan B, as in BESE: seeking approval from the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“We’re disappointed that the school board was unwilling to work with us on this,” says Tiffanie Lewis, Executive Director of Outreach Community Development Corporation, a group of educators and community members concerned about what they consider substandard education in four north Lafayette schools. Last month, OCDC submitted a more than 250-page application to the board for Harvest Preparatory Academy. The application hinged on using the N.P. Moss Middle School building for a 2010-2011 opening. However, the planning firm that is conducting the school system’s comprehensive facilities master plan had already recommended converting Moss into a technical high school.

In rejecting the application, some board members were critical of OCDC’s academic plan. “I had a serious problem with (the application), and I think it’s very, very flawed,” board member Hunter Beasley told The Daily Advertiser.

OCDC anticipated facing a hurdle in the LPSB; Lewis told The Independent before the application was presented to the board on Nov. 18 that if the LPSB rejected the application, BESE would be the next step. With that rejection now a reality, OCDC is looking ahead to next year. “I think BESE will be receptive,” Lewis says, adding that the group is now scouting alternate locations with a plan to open Harvest Prep for the 2011-2012 school year. "We feel like our chances are great," she adds. "We submitted a great application, and even the board, in hearing their thoughts on the charter, they had a few nit picks ... but I think the Board of Secondary and Elementary Education will work more with us to help get this accomplished."

OCDC’s plan is for Harvest Prep to accept 90 students in grades 5, 6 and 7 and will increase one grade level per year until it reaches 600 students in grades 5 through 12. The group wants to draw students from four north Lafayette schools: J.W. Faulk and Alice Boucher elementaries, N.P. Moss Middle and Northside High, four of the parish’s lowest-performing schools. Because it would be a public charter school, Harvest Prep would be free — no private school tuition — funded by state tax dollars.