Charter group's application to take over failing school turned down

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - J. K. Haynes Charter Elementary was one of the first to charter a school in the state 16 years ago. In that time, the school has been awarded by the state for being exemplary and increasing student performance. But when the group turned in an application to charter another school, they were surprised the state told them they did not have the experience.

On Monday, fourth graders in one classroom were studying Greek mythology. The teachers in the classrooms were sought after and selected by the J.K. Haynes charter group. The 260 students enrolled are there because their parents chose to bring them to that school, says the president of the charter board.

"We're able to give children that basic foundation because that's where you get it, elementary school, Pre-K, first grade, second grade. We give them that," said Dr. Nelson Taylor, the charter board president.

J.K. Haynes Charter Elementary has been ranked as both a B and C school, according to Taylor.

Taylor said it was a couple years ago the charter organization decided to expand to the middle school level. He says that is where students seem to get lost.

"We realized there was a problem over at Crestworth Middle. A problem we thought we were perfectly suited to solve," Taylor said.

Crestworth Middle is a failing school in East Baton Rouge Parish that's been under state takeover for years. It is currently in the Recovery School District, run by the state and is in need of a charter provider. The J.K. Haynes charter organization applied to operate Crestworth Middle. For one reason, it is in the same community as their current charter school. Taylor says that means they already understand the challenges and what is needed to turn things around.

But after going through the necessary steps, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education rejected their application.

"They though J.K. Haynes was an excellent, good school. Excellent at starting a school, but did not think we had the experience to take over a school," Taylor said is how BESE turned them down.

That's even with the East Baton Rouge School Board recommending the group be awarded the charter.

"It is concerning to me that a minority charter provider who's had success for 16 years in an elementary school is not given the opportunity to be a provider in a middle school," said Representative Pat Smith.

Smith is a former EBR school board member who approved the charter group in 1997. She says they deserve a chance to help the students at Crestworth Middle, especially considering other groups the state has awarded charters to.

"Advance Baton Rouge had no idea how to run schools. They were given schools in East Baton Rouge and failed miserably," Smith said. "And they (ABR) were given more schools one or two years after they were in existence."

Taylor says the large corporations that are awarded charters, as well as the out-of-state groups that are allowed to operate schools are not always the answer. Especially he says when groups like his are willing to help.

"We have a 15 year track record. Not somewhere else; here in this community, dealing with children in this area, North Baton Rouge."

Taylor says to him it seems the school takeover properties were committed to certain groups before the process even began.

A spokesperson for Department of Education says BESE believes the J.K. Haynes charter group is more equipped to start a new school, rather than turn around a failing school.

Dr. Taylor says they'll go back before the board of education in October, to hear if they have changed their mind.

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