The original plan for the Lycée Français de la Nouvelle Orléans calls for the charter school — which currently has students up to grade 3 — to suddenly add both the eighth and ninth grades next year, essentially leaping forward into both middle school and high school at once.
Now, the school’s new leadership is reconsidering that plan.
Concerns about that accelerate schedule for adding upper grades have been on the mind of new board chair Tim Gray since he assumed leadership of the school board in July. At that point, he called it “extremely ambitious” and said the school’s facilities committee should have a recommendation on whether to carry that plan out by this fall.
On Wednesday night, facilities committee chair Mary Jacobs Jones, school leader Keith Bartlett and two committee members held the first formal discussion of the plan. The tentative consensus was that any growth beyond the expected addition of a fourth grade next year is likely too much, too soon.
“This is a year to get things straight,” Jones said.
Three possible scenarios were discussed Wednesday. The school could stick to the charter’s plan, and add the eighth and ninth grades next year. It could abandon any accelerated growth, and simply add one grade level at a time. Or, in a sort of compromise, the school might decide not to add any middle-school grades ahead of time, but begin work on creating the city’s first French-immersion high school that would serve students from other programs around the city at some midpoint in the future.
One initial task the committee set for itself was to determine how many upper-grade students around the city would even be eligible for upper grades or a high school. More than 200 or 300 students entered French-immersion kindergarten programs this year at Lycee, Audubon Charter School, the International School of Louisiana’s various campuses, Hynes Charter School and the private Ecole Bilingue. Those numbers drop precipitously in the upper grades, however; because students must be fluent in French in the upper grades, those who leave the programs early for natural reasons are nearly impossible to replace.
Meanwhile, Audubon Charter already has a committee exploring the creation of a high school, and it is part of ISL’s long-range plan as well. Bartlett suggested that New Orleans might be better served by a single immersion high school fed by all the French programs, but it would require Lycee’s convincing the other schools it was truly interested in working together.
“None of us can do it alone,” Bartlett said.
Before making any recommendations to the full board, the facilities committee decided to spend a month researching the possible number of students, the staffing and facilities requirements, and state regulations that would be involved in adding middle school grades. Jones suggested that the committee should be able to make an initial recommendation on whether to add any additional grades next year within two months’ time.
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