The first charter school in Southwest Louisiana opened its doors this past school year and brought with it a year of challenges, adaptations and new successes.
Lake Charles Charter Academy Principal Pam Quebodeaux sat down with the American Press to discuss the school’s first year and its future.
Quebodeaux, a former public school principal, said that there are quite a few advantages to working at the new charter school, including being able to hand-pick her staff and having more freedom with the curriculum instruction.
But she said that the biggest benefit of the Academy is the parental involvement.
“Our parents sign a contract promising to give at least 20 hours of their time to our school, 30 hours if they have multiple kids. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” Quebodeaux said. “They care deeply about the success of our children and our school.”
However, the first year successes did not come without its fair share of challenges.
“One of my biggest challenges was realizing that we were not only a charter school, but also operating as a district. All of those things that districts do in terms of having a personnel department, a curriculum department, a technology department, we were having to figure out many of those things ourselves,” Quebodeaux said. “Through support from the state and a lot of trial and error, we’ve filtered through all of that, but it’s really made our jobs more complicated. I’m not just the principal, I’m also the superintendent.”
Quebodeaux and her staff also had to figure out how to best utilize the temporary building where the charter school was housed.
“We did not have a teacher’s lounge or workrooms, so we had no large gathering place for faculty meetings or for professional development. We made small spaces work,” Quebodeaux said. “We also didn’t have a place for grouping children for art or music or technology. Those teachers went room to room on carts this year and did a fantastic job.”
The biggest change for the Academy’s 2012-2013 school year will be their location. The school will move down the road to their new campus, a much larger building equipped for all school and extracurricular activities.
Next year, the sixth graders, the current oldest grade, will move up to seventh grade at the charter school. The school will then have students from kindergarten to seventh grade. It will become a full K-8 school in the 2013-2014 school year.
Quebodeaux said that 610 of the original students recommitted for the 2012-2013 school year. After enrollment, the school is at capacity for next year and has a waiting list of around 100 students.
“When I think about where we started, pulling 640 students from around the district and a staff of 50. We didn’t know each other, we didn’t have processes in place, we didn’t know our students and what their needs were,” Quebodeaux said. “That we have successfully come together this year and made it through the year with everyone still together and happy, retaining 600-plus children who want to come back, parents who are very satisfied, teachers who love working here and who want to continue working here. It’s an amazing accomplishment.”