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Parish magnet school gets approval

VIDALIA — The Concordia Parish School Board has one last hurdle to jump before it can officially open a magnet school in Ridgecrest.

The board was granted approval this week by the U.S. Department of Justice to move forward with the school, which will be a math, science and technology magnet school.

While administrators are beginning to prepare applications and material in hopes of opening the school in August, a final approval to close the current Ridgecrest school and proceed with the magnet school will be placed to a vote during the board’s regular monthly meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, May 14.

But with board members who’ve been supportive of the project since the school’s inception almost five years ago, Superintendent Loretta Blankenstein said she has high hopes the school will move forward.

“The board has been behind the school since the beginning, and we feel confident that we’ll be able to move forward and have students in the school this fall,” Blankenstein said. “We’re very excited to get this school moving.”

A magnet school offers specialized courses and does not rely on school district lines, but rather can draw students from the entire parish.

Initially, the school will educate kindergarten to fifth-grade students, who will be chosen by a lottery system.

Paul Nelson, director of academic programs, said there are 20 available slots for students per grade level, but a waiting list will also be kept.

“We’re moving forward with the school, so if you’re a parent, and you’re interested in your child attending, you need to perk up your interest because the application process will begin pretty quickly,” Nelson said. “We’ve gotten a lot of calls and interest over the past several months, so we hope there is a good response.”

Following the board’s approval, Nelson said parent meetings will be hosted at various parish schools to answer any questions and clarify the application process.

While there will be no entrance requirements for the first wave of students, Nelson said a 2.5 GPA would likely be required for students to remain at the school.

A clean discipline record will also be required for students to remain at the school — three strikes and a student would be put out of the school.

Other things such as attendance records and parent participation will also factor into students being allowed to stay in the school, Nelson said.

A sibling rule, allowing a brother or sister of a student who was chosen in the lottery the choice to attend the school, might also be put in place.

Students currently enrolled at Ridgecrest are encouraged to fill out an application to be selected, but if they are not drawn in the lottery they will be sent to Vidalia or Ferriday.

Immediately after receiving the department of justice letter, Blankenstein said she and other administrators met with faculty and staff at Ridgecrest to make sure they knew opportunities were still available at the magnet school.

“We wanted to let them, and all of our other employees, know that we would be searching for candidates interested in applying for positions at the magnet school,” Blankenstein said. “We’ve gotten a good response from them, and we’ll begin interviews in the following weeks.”

The school proposal would also have to go before a desegregation judge — because the parish is under a federal desegregation order — for a final vote.

Both Blankenstein and Nelson said the judges tend to side with the department of justice in most situations, and that they don’t foresee any problems getting the approval.

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