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Louisiana’s Apex Collegiate Charter School to Close; Website Still Encourages Enrollment

April 14, 2019

On April 10, 2019, Apex Collegiate Academy charter school CEO Eric Lewis told parents that the school would close at the end of the 2018-19 school year. Located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Apex Collegiate is one of  number of charter schools contributing to instability in the K12 school landscape in Baton Rouge. From the April 10, 2019, Baton Rouge Advocate:

In yet another shakeup for the Baton Rouge charter school world, Apex Collegiate Academy broke the news to its parents Wednesday that it will close its doors on May 31 when its school year ends.

“Academically, the pace at which our students are moving is not fast enough,” Eric Lewis, Apex’s founder and school executive director, told The Advocate.

The charter school’s board of directors voted late last week to close the school, which has an F academic letter grade, after three years in operation. Lewis said he sent a letter Friday to the Louisiana Department of Education informing it of the move. …

The news was a surprise for parents and students alike. …

Apex’s announcement comes as the state said it wants to revoke the charter for Laurel Oaks Charter School, which also opened in 2016, a move that Laurel Oak leaders say they will fight.

Meanwhile, the charters for two more Baton Rouge charter schools, Baton Rouge College Prep and Friendship Capitol High, are ending in May.

Celerity Schools is taking over the middle school that Baton Rouge College Prep has run since 2015 on the former Glen Oaks Middle School campus and plans to merge it with the middle school it runs at Crestworth Middle School.

Meanwhile, Washington, D.C.-based Friendship Schools will continue to run Capitol High for the 2019-20 school year, while the alumni and the state look for someone else to take over the high school.

Apex Collegiate opened its doors in 2016-17, but not because it was approved by the local chartering board, which in Apex Collegiate’s case was the East Baton Rouge School Board (EBRSB). In June 2015, EBRSB rejected Apex Collegiate’s application (a “Type 1” chartering situation in Louisiana), and the state board of ed (BESE) turned right around and approved it (a “Type 2” charter in Louisiana). (See Apex Collegiate listed as a Type 2 charter school here.)

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And all of that chartering is eating into the EBR school system budget.

From the June 05, 2015, Baton Rouge Advocate:

The East Baton Rouge Parish school system is poised to spend more than $30 million than it expects to take in next year, and once again, charter schools are getting much of the blame for the rising costs. …

The School Board on Thursday unanimously rejected four applicants seeking to start Type 1 charter schools in the parish. Some of the applicants are expected to appeal to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to operate as a Type 2 charter under that agency’s authority. …

The budget and charter schools have been intertwined for years, and the biggest cost driver many years has been charter schools. …

Former School Board member Noel Hammatt warned his former colleagues Thursday that charter schools are a financial drain, all costs and no gain, something auditors have attested to through the years. Approving more could be disastrous, he said.

“You will rapidly reach the point where you cannot function as a district,” Hammatt said.

Matt Diez, president of the parent-teacher organization at BR FLAIM, a foreign language immersion magnet school, said his school’s budget is being cut for a second year in a row, and the reason he’s given each year is because of charter school expansion.

Yet, he said, most of the charter schools in Baton Rouge have earned D and F letter grades from the state.

“If my school has to have its pocket picked, it better be for something really good,” Diez said. …

Outside evaluator Kimberly Williams recommended rejecting all four. …

… Apex Collegiate Academy, brought many supporters to Thursday’s meeting, to no avail.

Kathryn Rice, a board member for Apex, and the founder of another new charter school, Baton Rouge College Prep, said Apex is bringing something new to town.

“A mission of 100 percent of students being college bound in north Baton Rouge is indeed unique,” said Rice, adding that the school is shooting to have every student earn a 23 on the ACT college placement exam.

Belinda Davis, president of the group One Community, One School District, urged the board to focus on plans and experience, not on promises.

She noted that Apex’s ACT goal is higher than the national average for the ACT and that only 10 percent of low-income children earn a 23 or above on that test.

“We have had a lot of charter schools come before that have lofty goals, and they have not met their goals,” Davis said.

Note that concerns raised surrounding Apex Collegiate’s rejection by EBRSB include chartering goals too lofty to reasonably achieve as well as the reality that most EBR charter schools are graded as D or F schools. According to the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools (LAPCS) “find a charter” search engine (which has not been updated using 2017-18 school letter grades but appears to use 2016-17 data), there are 27 charter schools located in East Baton Rouge; 4 have no grade listed (including Apex Collegiate). Of the remaining 23 charter schools, 14 are graded D, and one is graded F.

Apex Collegiate may have had lofty goals, but it seems that such goals do not apparently include maintaining an updated website.

As of April 14, 2019, the Apex Collegiate website includes no information for the public regarding its May 2019 closure. On the contrary, it advertises, “We are now enrolling for the 2019-20 school year. If your child will be entering the 6th, 7th or 8th grade, please Apply now!

The application (misinformation in itself) includes the following misinformation for parents: “We will grow by one grade level every year until we are a full 6-12 school.”

But there’s more:

If one seeks updated info regarding Apex Collegiate board meetings, the most recent board meeting agenda is from August 15, 2018, and the most recent board meeting minutes is dated May 2018.

Finally, in his bio sketch, Apex Collegiate CEO Eric Lewis fails to identify that he was state director for the now-defunct ed reform org, Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), which he nebulously alludes to as “a national school choice advocacy organization”:

Eric B. LewisExecutive Director 

Mr. Lewis has extensive experience as a business and non-profit leader. A native of Baton Rouge, Mr. Lewis has worked in the field of engineering for multiple Fortune 500 companies.  He has also developed and launched a number of small businesses.  Most recently he served as the state director of a national school choice advocacy organization.  He has a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Southern University, and a MBA from Louisiana State University.  Selected as a 2014 Fellow with nationally recognized Building Excellent Schools, Mr. Lewis conducted school visits and completed rigorous training to design, found, and lead Apex Collegiate Academy, a 6-12 charter school for the students of Baton Rouge.

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Eric Lewis

Lewis’ decision to not identify his association with BAEO by name is a curious one; this Lewis-Apex bio archived in December 2015 (years before BAEO’s October 2017 announcement of its closure) still includes no mention of BAEO. However, Lewis was once very public about using his BAEO title in connection in promoting charter schools in Louisiana.

Prior to EBDSB rejecting Lewis’ application to open Apex Collegiate– and prior to the state’s approving it anyway– and prior to Apex Collegiate’s impending closure– and prior to Apex Collegiate parents being stiffed by “choice”– and certainly prior to BAEO’s closure– BAEO state president Lewis co-authored this op-ed entitled, “Charter Schools Are Transforming Education in Louisiana.” Below are some excerpts:

The Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) would like to applaud the nearly 60,000 students attending charter schools in Louisiana and the work of the many teachers, school administrators and community members who provide service to Louisiana’s 117 charter schools. …

While the “charter story” of growth and academic gains in New Orleans has been monumental, there also has been an increased demand for charter schools in other parts of our state. In recent years charter schools have opened in Baton Rouge….

What is exciting is that charter schools are continuing to innovate and offer students diverse learning opportunities. …

We celebrate the idea that charter schools give parents and their children power through choice. We celebrate the number of school leaders and community members who have stepped up to not only support schools but also to create innovative schools that serve children and families well. We celebrate the innovation that charter schools have brought to learning communities throughout this state. We celebrate, with optimism, that communities stepping to the plate to plan, create and deliver stellar charters will fill the need for continued high quality school innovation. But most of all, we celebrate the fact that charter schools are providing children with hope for a brighter future.

BAEO stands for parental choice. We celebrate charter schools — those in the classroom and those leading this effort because they understand children deserve a world-class education. We celebrate the thousands of parents who demand more for their children. And while we would not suggest that charter schools or any other learning environment is a panacea, we will not rest until children are able to access the best possible settings for learning. As we all drive toward this goal, let’s pause and celebrate the progress being made.

Eric B. Lewis

State director
Louisiana Black Alliance for Educational Options
Baton Rouge

Ethan Ashley

Director of Community Outreach
Louisiana Black Alliance for Educational Options
New Orleans

And now, back to the opening article:

In yet another shakeup for the Baton Rouge charter school world, Apex Collegiate Academy broke the news to its parents Wednesday that it will close its doors on May 31 when its school year ends.

“Academically, the pace at which our students are moving is not fast enough,” Eric Lewis, Apex’s founder and school executive director, told The Advocate.

The charter school’s board of directors voted late last week to close the school, which has an F academic letter grade, after three years in operation. Lewis said he sent a letter Friday to the Louisiana Department of Education informing it of the move. …

The news was a surprise for parents and students alike. …

Apex’s announcement comes as the state said it wants to revoke the charter for Laurel Oaks Charter School, which also opened in 2016, a move that Laurel Oak leaders say they will fight.

Meanwhile, the charters for two more Baton Rouge charter schools, Baton Rouge College Prep and Friendship Capitol High, are ending in May.

Celerity Schools is taking over the middle school that Baton Rouge College Prep has run since 2015 on the former Glen Oaks Middle School campus and plans to merge it with the middle school it runs at Crestworth Middle School.

Meanwhile, Washington, D.C.-based Friendship Schools will continue to run Capitol High for the 2019-20 school year, while the alumni and the state look for someone else to take over the high school.

There will be no 2019 BAEO op-ed on the charter school situation in East Baton Rouge, but surely Lewis could respond with a word on how choice is illusory when charter closures blindside parents and disrupt communities.

He should probably update that misleading Apex Collegiate website first.

Let parents know its Nadir Time.

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Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

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3 Comments
  1. John Plencner permalink

    How do charter schools achieve these standards? Well, they can make a 23 on the ACT a graduation requirement. They also can make sure that they do not accept students that don’t have a strong potential to achieve such scores (cherry pick).

    What are the results. In the first case students need to return to the public school system in order to get a diploma. In the second case the charter school depresses the student quality in the public school (and the public school grades) by recruiting the best and brightest students, thus depressing public school grades.

    What can we do? First, put serious limitations on the ability of a charter school to impose graduation requirements that exceed those of the local school district. We also need to have some sort of review authority for expulsions from a charter school, especially when academically related. We also need to make the charter schools less fiscally draining. Administrative items like purchasing, payroll, etc., should be required to go through the local agency, The costs decrease dramatically, and there is a modicum of oversight. For example, the requirements for purchasing materials should follow the same guidelines (Board approval of contracts, etc.). Current processes are open invitations to fraud and embezzlement. Personnel costs could be based upon % of applicable personnel costs. And so on.

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