Charter Schools: How do they work?

Charter schools are part of an education reform that offers choices for parents and students for an education that differs from tradition.

Parents in southwest Louisiana will be offered the alternative for the school year 2011-2012 with the opening of the Lake Charles Charter Academy. But how effective are charter schools in improving education?

7News visited a successful nearby charter school to discover their approach to improving test scores and building better character in their school.

The Children's Charter School in Baton Rouge is a successful two star school and one of the oldest in the state. The school opened its doors 14 years ago and is operated independently by a private board.

The students are selected to attend by a public lottery and 95% of the students attending this school are at risk students.

"We're a good school," said Mark Comanducci, Principal of Children's Charter School. "Our students traditionally outperform students of the same demographic here in Baton Rouge."

Comanducci has served as principal for Children's Charter School for two years. A former teacher in the East Baton Rouge district, he recalls some of the inefficiencies within traditional public schools.

"Some of the time I felt my hands were kind of tied with what I could do in terms of student achievement," said Comanducci.

After researching charter schools, Comanducci discovered the difference between a traditional public school and a charter school.

"I believe that the purpose behind charter schools is to quickly react to student need and parent need," said Comanducci. "At our school we have the freedom and the autonomy to do that."

Some initiatives Comanducci has implemented in his school include reading workshops, music programs, sports activities, and a much tighter student and teacher ratio.

"Our class sizes are smaller, we're chartered for only 20 students to a class," said Comanducci.

Another great strength of a charter school is increased parental involvement.

"We like to build relationships with our students and our families," said Comanducci. "A lot of our families start here at kindergarten and they stay with us through the 5 years, which is really what we want."

According to Louisiana Department of Education's School Performance Data for 2008-2009, the Children's Charter School scored an 84.7 performance rating. The score places Children's Charter in the two star rating category as an academically acceptable place to learn.

Other schools with 95% at risk population did not score as high, however. White Hills Elementary and University Terrace Elementary scored within the Academic Watch (60.0-70.0) category. Winbourne Elementary scored below 60.0, placing in the Academically Unacceptable (Below 60.0) category.

Concerned parent Shawanda Johnson of Baton Rouge researched the scores for these schools before sending her children to school.

"I wanted to find the best fit where we could receive the best education in our area," said Johnson. "Of course the school for our area was deemed academically unacceptable, so that to me is unacceptable to allow your child to attend school there."

Johnson then decided to make a choice and send her two daughters to Children's Charter School for a different education from tradition. Johnson encourages parents in southwest Louisiana to consider the new option that is on the way to Calcasieu Parish.

"You have that choice and it's best to do your research and make the right choice for your child's education," said Johnson. "They are our future. If we make the wrong decision then it hurts everyone's future."

For more information on the new charter school in southwest Louisiana, click on Lake Charles Charter Academy to the right.