LA MARQUE — The Renaissance Academy inside La Marque Middle School could be a campus-based charter school by the start of the 2014-15 school year.
The academy is one of the district’s initiatives to bring more students to La Marque and to provide different options for parents. It serves students in fifth through eighth grade.
The academy’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program is the catalyst for a districtwide initiative to better prepare students for state testing and post-graduation employment, said Dr. Joanie Hudson, assistant superintendent for school improvement.
“This is phase one of the new face for La Marque with an academic perspective,” Hudson said.
A campus-based charter school is different from an open-enrollment charter school, like La Marque’s Premier Learning Academy and Mainland Preparatory Academy, which operate as separate districts, Hudson said.
As an on-campus charter, the Renaissance Acadmey would still be subject to the La Marque school board.
Charter schools receive separate funding from the state and a separate accountability rating.
As a charter school, the academy would be funded entirely through the state, which already is providing about 90 percent of its funding through supplemental grants.
The remaining 10 percent comes from the school district.
A charter designation for the academy would save the La Marque school district cash it desperately needs in the face of a budget crisis, Hudson said.
Additional funding would go toward increasing the number of teachers from five to 14 and possibly toward a new building, she said.
It would also help pay for things that are not viable districtwide, such as an orchestra, Hudson said.
“There’s plenty of money out there — we just need to get it.” Hudson said. “We shouldn’t have to be enslaved by local and state funding.”
Those kinds of alternatives are essential for district recruitment, she said.
“If you want to keep kids in the district, you’ve got to be globally competitive,” Hudson said. “Parents want innovation, creativity and high expectations in an academic setting.”
‘What’s happening now’
DelSenna Frazier, director of college and career readiness for the district, said preparing students for careers in science, engineering, technology and math will help prepare students for the global hiring market.
“STEM is what’s happening now,” Frazier said. “Three million jobs in the U.S. are not being filled because students aren’t trained in those areas.”
The academy has academic partnerships with the University of Texas Medical Branch, Dow Chemical Co., BP and College of the Mainland, she said.
“It’ll help this community produce these types of students,” Frazier said.
There are 100 students in the academy this school year, 15 of who are from outside the La Marque school district, Principal Denise Simmons said.
Officials hope to recruit 80 more students during the coming school year.
Charter schools are freed from some rules and regulations because the state has to give them more freedom to be innovative in their approaches, said Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency.
That means that students at the academy could substitute a physical education class with a health class, or even an internship at a health facility, Hudson said.
Waiting for an answer
The school board granted Hudson’s request to seek a charter school designation Thursday.
The agency will decide whether to forward the request to the State Board of Education, which grants the status, partly based on scoring of the program’s academics, innovation and financial status, Ratcliffe said.
“Basically, what we are trying to determine is if this would be a good school,” Ratcliffe said.
Only 215 Texas schools can have a charter designation at any given time, Ratcliffe said.
The board of education grants six to 10 new charters a year, and there are six open spots, she said.
Once a school is granted charter status, it usually has about a year to prepare for the change, she said.