Magnolia Charter

Parents looking for an escape from poor performing neighborhood schools may turn to a charter school for their kids. But Magnolia School of Excellence in Shreveport has turned in an 'F.' That's its latest performance score.

And it comes just as the Caddo Parish School Board considers whether to extend Magnolia's operating contract.

Magnolia is the first charter school to come up for a five-year review before the school board. Whether it gets a full five-year renewal -- or something less -- is up to the Board.

Superintendent Lamar Goree says that in addition to extending Magnolia a new five year deal, the board could choose a shorter term -- perhaps three years. Or the board could revoke Magnolia's charter and put it out of business.

But Goree says that's not likely.

"My thought is that we will have a renewal of the contract with conditions and recommendations with things that feel like will strengthen their product with their students," Goree says, adding that those details will come later.

But already this school year, Magnolia says it's implemented changes aimed at improving its academic performance.

"We have purchased curriculums that are aligned to the Louisiana state standards. And we're getting professional development for our teachers for those curriculums," says Kim Derrick, Magnolia Lower School Principal.

Derrick says it's also improving its remedial teaching for students who are lagging. They get nearly an hour of intervention per day. Extra tutoring is being done two days per week, and they'll expand to Saturdays in January. And in February, students will take their third LEAP 360 diagnostic test of the year to see where students are still struggling.

"We are grouping students according to needs and focusing in on what they need, how they need it, and doing progress monitoring timely so that if we need to change those interventions, we can," Derrick says.

Another concern at Magnolia is higher operating costs -- especially the lease payments for its facilities, which have risen sharply. While private money built the lower and upper campuses, the leases are paid with public funds.

Last year, the school says the payments were interest-only as part of its lease negotiations for the new building for grades 6 through 12. This year, full payments are due.

Spokeswoman Colleen Reynolds said in a written statement, "Magnolia School of Excellence is under no financial uncertainty or strain. The school will ramp up its enrollment over the coming years and its financial strength will grow as enrollment continues to grow."

Magnolia is partnered with Florida-based Charter Schools USA, which Reynolds says "will ensure the school remains stable."

But combined with Magnolia's F-rating, Goree says the rent raises eyebrows.

"There have certainly been some noted concerns with some of those higher costs that they will incur as they approach the maturity of that lease," Goree says.

With 1,100 Caddo Parish schoolkids attending Magnolia, Goree says the district will work closely with the charter to provide support. He says Magnolia can buy services from Caddo, like special education and professional development, as it tries to pass the test.

"The question is what is the growth? And is the potential for growth, and those things in place that lead to growth, are those in place? Those will be the things we'll look for," Goree says.

As a charter school, Magnolia's academic targets are set by its own governing board. The Caddo School Board is not involved in daily operations, nor can it set specific conditions. But Magnolia still has to participate in Louisiana's school rating program.

The school plans to add 11th and 12th grades over the next two years.


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