Audubon Charter School must decide within the month whether to it will launch a new campus in another part of the city in the fall of 2018 that would combine a French-immersion curriculum with Montessori techniques.
Audubon is considering “replicating” their program in a new school, and created a committee helmed by board member Dr. Erica Murray last month to begin gathering information on the process. At a board meeting Saturday morning, Murray explained that the replicated school would be completely separate in many ways from the current Audubon campuses, with separate staffs and even separate School Performance Scores.
The replicated school would launch in 2018 with kindergarten through second grades, and add a grade each year to become a K-8 school, Murray said. The school would not have separate tracks based on the French curriculum and Montessori program that the current Audubon arrangement does, but would instead combine the two into a French-immersion program teaching the Louisiana state curriculum with Montessori techniques, Murray explained.
“We won’t lose our focus on French language. We won’t lose our focus on Montessori,” said CEO LaToye Brown. “It’s just going to be combined in a different way than it was in the past.”
The new school will have open admissions, though preference will be given to students with previous French or Montessori schooling, as well as to siblings of current students or children of staff members on site, Murray said. Students could not transfer from one program to another, however; they would have to apply like other children.
The differences in the new school, however, will not affect the structure of Audubon’s flagship program on Broadway and Milan streets. They would retain their current structure and admissions processes, and would continue to receive a School Performance Score that is separate from the score awarded the new school, Murray said.
“What we are replicating is how we build an A-student,” Murray said.
Though the campus would not open until the fall of 2018, the timeline for Audubon to make a decision is fairly swift. A notice of intent is due at the end of January; the full application is due to the Orleans Parish School Board by the end of February; and the OPSB would hold public hearings and make a final decision in May. Because Audubon’s board took no vote on the issue Saturday morning, the board may hold a special meeting to take action on the issue, Brown said.
The chief advantage of moving forward now is that the Orleans Parish School Board would allow Audubon to launch a new school from scratch. In the future, as more new schools populate the landscape, the school board may only allow existing programs to take over low-performing schools, not create new ones, Murray said.
“We don’t have to take over a failing school,” Murray said. “We would build them holistically from the bottom up.”
Meanwhile, the Orleans Parish School Board is regularly assigning buildings to new charters, Murray said, citing recent campuses given to Bricolage Academy, Cypress Academy, and the International School of Louisiana.
As part of the application, Audubon must declare what neighborhood it would prefer, and most of the hypothetical discussions at the board level held so far have focused on Gentilly or the Westbank. Board member Eva Alito expressed a preference for Gentilly on Saturday morning, and Brown replied that it would be a natural fit because Audubon already spent time in the neighborhood while it used the Jean Gordon site as swing space during the Broadway renovations.
“There is a need for better schools in all these areas,” Murray said.
But what is most clear, Murray said, is the citywide need for more schools like Audubon. Of the city’s 52 elementary schools, 19 are rated a D or an F, and only five have an A-rating like Audubon. Meanwhile, 950 students applied to Audubon for the current school year, she said, but the school could only admit 100 or so.
“We have so much excess demand, we know we will able to offer this opportunity to more kids,” Brown said.
The replication effort won’t slow the search for a permanent home for the Audubon students temporarily housed at the Milan Street campus, board member Eva Alito said. Audubon still has its eye on moving them to either the Banneker building close to its Broadway campus, or the Allen building on Nashville Avenue that it has been requesting for a decade, but neither will be available for a few more years.
“I don’t want to leapfrog over Milan,” Alito said. “We’re very aware of its limitations. The search will be parallel.”
Meanwhile, Audubon also plans to seek more financial independence from the Orleans Parish School Board in funding for special education and other services, after the school’s governing board voted Saturday morning to become its own local education authority.
To read our live coverage of the meeting, see below.