Third party review recommended against approving Lincoln Prep application

By T. Scott Boatright

Lincoln Preparatory School pulled the only agenda item for a special-called Lincoln Parish School Board meeting Thursday after learning that a third-party charter school application evaluation and recommendation advised for the request to not be recommended for approval.

That evaluation by TCK Education Consultants, LCC, looked at a potential request by Lincoln Prep to open a predominately virtual Lincoln Preparatory Academy for students from 15- to 21-year-olds not attending high school as well as those who have been expelled from high school.

The proposal would have combined online studies with in-person classwork at New Living Word Ministries in Ruston.

Lincoln Prep is a Type II public charter school, allowing it to enroll students from multiple parishes in the region.

Gordon Ford, executive director at Lincoln Prep, wanted the new school to have the same designation, but the state requires that a Type I charter application, which allows only students from within the school’s parish, to be enrolled.

One of the primary issues TCK found in Lincoln Prep’s application is that while the school was applying for a Type II charter setup, the budget and overall plan was geared to a Type II charter school.

“The applicant applied for a Type 1 charter school but acknowledged in the capacity interview, it would rather open and operate a Type 2 charter school with a statewide recruitment strategy,” TCK found in its summary recommending Lincoln Prep’s application not be approved. “The applicant shared that their strategy was to submit a proposal to the district for a Type 2 school knowing the district cannot authorize it. The applicant built a budget that relies on MFP funds from eight parishes throughout North Central  Louisiana, including Lincoln Parish Schools. During the capacity interview, the group stated that they do not intend to pull students from Lincoln Parish Schools, however; the district’s per-pupil allocation figures prominently in the proposal budget and recruitment strategy likely because it has the highest MFP in North Central Louisiana. 

“There is a significant lack of intentionality in the way that the applicant group describes the overall plan for the hybrid alternative high school design. The evaluators found that in many areas, the proposal lacked adequate detail with regard to strategic planning, defined metrics, set timelines, clearly delineated roles, and responsibilities, operating processes, systematized structures, and contingency plans.”

TCK’s findings, which were received shortly before Thursday’s meeting, indicated that it was felt the application was made for the right reasons but could not be recommended as presented.

“The Executive Director’s passion and commitment to the community and students in need was apparent to evaluators,” TCK’s findings read. “However, the fact that no other members of the team participated in the interviews evidenced limited organizational and leadership capacity. The evaluators question whether the group understands what it takes to replicate and grow a network of schools. The school’s plan to allocate staffing costs across the two schools, including salaries for the CFO, Executive Director, teachers, and staff is concerning. 

“Evaluators surmise that the plan is to have teachers at Lincoln Prep split their time between the two schools. In essence, they plan to operate as though they were a CMO by merging funds from both schools. This is evidenced by the fact that they did not provide a comprehensive plan to hire, recruit, and retain teachers and staff with specialized training in alternative education techniques which would be necessary to meet the demands of this population of students. Further, the group provided a generic discipline plan without regard for making special accommodations for the needs of disconnected youths.”  

Lincoln Parish School’s Superintendent Ricky Durrett said that because of his findings, he would have recommended the LPSB vote against approving Lincoln Prep’s proposal.

Durrett said that Ford could move forward to create such a Type II charter school program for students 15- to 21-year-olds not attending high school or have been expelled from high school from Lincoln Prep only without going through approval from the LPSB.

But in order to be a Type II program and draw students from across the parish and beyond, the way Lincoln Prep operates, Ford would again have to formally file an application asking the LPSB for approval.

Durrett said that current Lincoln Parish Schools system students or former students under similar circumstances can go to the Lincoln Parish Youth Rescue Center.

“That’s in the McClain Building there at Ruston High School,” Durrett said. “If a kid gets into trouble there’s a hearing that’s held with a hearing officer and parents, and the kid may be placed there for five days, 10 days, a half semester, a full semester or all year.

“If they’re there, their teachers still send them stuff through Google Classroom to get their assignments, and then they’ll also use Ingenuity, which is an online program for some for certain classes if they’re there for an extended period of time.”

Ford said that he and Durrett had had conversations to reach “some understanding on what each of us are trying to do and we’re going to try to work on some things together, and we’ll make a decision later on if we think we need to come back to a charter school or if we think we need to service the kids we need to serve under the structure we already have in place.”

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