Locals aim to open new school

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 19, 2006


&8212; After a failed attempt in Natchez, two local residents are hoping to open a charter school in Concordia Parish.

The African American Rite of Passage institute &8212; led by Lamar Beyah and his wife Iretha &8212; plans to spend this year getting the proper paperwork in to the state.

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Any charter school has to first be approved by the state, then the local school board.

TAARP has received non-profit status in Louisiana. The school would be open to all residents of the Concordia Parish school district in grades kindergarten through ninth.

Lamar Beyah said he hopes to target children in the area who are Katrina evacuees, at-risk children and dropouts and those already enrolled in a public school struggling with discipline or academics who may need extra help.

The school would offer small classes, high academic standards, an emphasis on discipline and an emphasis on the fact that students must grow up to be an important part of society, Beyah said.

Beyah established TAARP in 1987 in St. Louis, Mo. In 1998 the state of Missouri approved a request for a charter school, but the school never opened because of a change in state law regarding charter schools.

In 2004, the Beyahs began the process for a charter school in Natchez &8212; a town they chose because Iretha is from here.

Mississippi law requires that the local public school approve the charter school first. The Natchez-Adams School Board denied the Beyahs request.

So they&8217;ll try again in Louisiana, Lamar Beyah said.

&8220;After the hurricane, Louisiana felt charter schools should be a big part of education,&8221; he said.

&8220;We want to help wherever we can help, based on how easy it is to get in and help.&8221;

Beyah also wants children from Natchez to be able to attend a charter school in the parish.

Once TAARP submits the application to the state, it will be a full year before any school can open.

Beyah plans to hold a community meeting this fall in the Ferriday area to answer questions and inform parents of his plans. He has contacted parish schools Superintendent Kerry Laster about his plans, but she said Wednesday that her board won&8217;t be involved until after state approval.

Beyah said his organization will have to consider possible locations and may build or renovate.

Charter schools are not considered private schools and do not charge tuition. They receive some state funding, but not as much as public schools.

TAARP is working with Charter Consultants, a division of the Governor French Academy in Bellville, Ill.

Director Paul Seibert said the process of opening a charter school was always a challenging one.

&8220;Chances are so variable; it&8217;s from moment to moment,&8221; Seibert said.

&8220;I&8217;ve worked with clients where we&8217;ve done everything according to the book and had approval going in and in the end, that changed. You do not know that you have a school until the state puts its final stamp on it.&8221;

Seibert said every client he&8217;s worked with has a different reason for wanting to start a charter school, but all must be focused on the children.

&8220;The thing that&8217;s most unique about TAARP is the philosophy that African Amercian students have the responsibility to grow up and be responsible young men and women.&8221;