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Monday, Jan. 16, 2023

School Choice and Innovation

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Louisiana Key Academy charter school set to open

The idea of choice for parents and students in public education is not a new concept in our community.

Over the years, school choice has come in family decisions about where to live, majority/minority transfer rules to promote integration, magnet schools for children who meet certain academic standards, and private schools for those who could afford to send their children.

However, these choice alternatives are not equally accessible to everyone. Charter schools level the playing field for students and parents. They offer an outlet for those unhappy with their current schools or those looking for a different approach to their child’s education. This may be about academics, a negative relationship with a teacher or administrator, or a bullying issue with other students.

The charter school concept is based on the premise parents know best in choosing the right schools for their children. Charter schools are successful only if there is significant demand from families for the school.

Charter schools are dependent on market forces. Students can return to the traditional school in their attendance zone anytime. Charter schools must meet the needs of an individual child. They must answer for parents that question, “What is this school doing to fuel my child’s dreams?”

Charter schools are governed by non-profit boards and are held accountable in state evaluation and testing. They are public schools with no tuition.

From a school improvement perspective, charter schools also provide an incubator for innovation in education. They have greater freedom and flexibility in decision-making than traditional schools.

Northwest Louisiana will be welcoming true innovation in the 2023-24 school year with the opening of the Louisiana Key Academy charter school. This school focuses on best practices to help children who have difficulty reading because of dyslexia.

This reading disorder is common and seen in some form in 20% of children. For the young child, dyslexia is manifested by late talking as well as problems forming words, learning new words slowly, and naming letters, numbers or colors. In school, children with dyslexia are usually reading below the expected level for their age. They avoid activities that involve reading and have difficulty formulating answers to questions and sounding out new words.

Dyslexia is not due to problems with intelligence. Most children with dyslexia can succeed in schools with tutoring or specialized education programs. The Louisiana Key Academy will provide those specialized education programs at no cost to our families – just as the school serves children in Baton Rouge and the Northshore.

The Louisiana Key Academy is true innovation in education. As an analogy to my work in health care, Louisiana Key Academy is like a specialty hospital – like MD Anderson or the Willis-Knighton Cancer Center, where all they do is cancer care.

The school is a one-stop shop putting a lot of experts together to learn from each other and apply the learning to the children they serve. Maybe most importantly, the Louisiana Key Academy builds self-worth, helping children realize there are other children just like them in their community.

The Louisiana Key Academy will offer screening and testing as required for children this spring. Because the state school board charters it, it is open to all residents of Louisiana. In Baton Rouge, the school serves children in 12 parishes, and I suspect it will serve several parishes in Northwest Louisiana.

Like other charter schools, the Louisiana Key Academy is a public school with no tuition. The school provides a service that costs tens of thousands of dollars in the private setting – a tuition well out of the financial reach of most of the young families in our community.

There is no debate that transformational change only comes when our community approaches public education with a “what can we do together to educate all children well” mindset. Choice is simply creating new opportunities for people in our community to pursue the best for their children. There is no debate Louisiana Key Academy will be part of providing great opportunities.

Dr. Phillip Rozeman is the founder of the Alliance for Education and Education’s Next Horizon. He is a member of the JA Business Hall of Fame and was honored with the outstanding community service award of CABL and NW LA. Medical Society.

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