Audubon Charter School: They Must Be Doing Something Right

The Audubon Charter School in New Orleans, LA, is not the city’s newest school; however, their Gentilly Terrace Campus is one of the newest. The PK-8 school planned to open at the beginning of the 2018 school year, and it did just that. In 2018, the school received nearly 1,200 applications via the state’s OneApp system. Because of the school’s size and capacity, they could only accept 171 students to the Montessori school. Says the school’s principal, David LaViscount, “The numbers of applicants not only say a great deal about Audubon’s reputation within the community and support from community members; it also speaks to what the community wants and what the city of New Orleans needs to do next to increase opportunity for students—to have available seats for students.”

Unlike the city’s top schools that are located in highly affluent neighborhoods, the Audubon Charter Gentilly campus provides access to quality education in a region of the city where there are no other A-rated elementary schools.

Audubon Charter Schools have been around since 1981, when students in a Montessori certification class petitioned the Orleans Parish School board to adopt the Montessori concept. When the school closed as a result of the devastation left behind by Hurricane Katrina, as most schools in New Orleans had done, Audubon reopened as a charter school and was no longer under the control of the Orleans Parish public education system. Audubon Charter School network is now under the leadership and direction of CEO Latoye Brown, M.Ed, a Xavier University of Louisiana alumna.

While there are considerable inequalities in education, there are successful approaches around the city that are striving toward students’ academic success. Rooted in Montessori teachings, curriculum is tailored to individual students using traditional Montessori and French instruction coupled with common core lessons. Overall, the curriculum at Audubon focuses on developing children and focusing on state standards. In a school system with enormous opportunity for growth and improvement, Audubon Public Charter has received top ratings from the Louisiana Department of Education for several years. Since the Gentilly campus completed its first academic calendar year, they have yet to receive their performance ranking from the state; however, if this campus is anything like the charter network it belongs to, it will give more African American students in New Orleans access to high-quality non-traditional education that the Audubon network of schools is known for. Gentilly Principal, David LaViscount, originally from Harlem, NY, moved to New Orleans to attend UNCF’s HBCU member institution, Dillard University. He eventually transferred and graduated from the Louisiana State University with a bachelor’s degree in French; and went on to earn a master of arts in teaching from Louisiana College. In 2019 he earned a Ph.D. from the University of New Orleans. LaViscount began his teaching career as a French language instructor in Louisiana public schools.

When asked about the school and what the principal wants others to know about Audubon, LaViscount replied, “Our core values are ‘Embrace, Serve and Reflect.’ These core values define our school. We’re a school that is welcoming and where teachers and students are encouraged to be authentically themselves.”

The school has partnered with Young Audiences, the state’s leading provider of arts education and integration programs. Through this initiative, students are exposed to performing arts, piano and strings classes, visual arts and Caribbean dance and drum classes. Through other extracurricular activities, students can participate in non-competitive soccer, gardening clubs and cheer classes.

Some of the school’s most notable student academic successes includes:

  • Literacy, due to its importance in terms of being a gateway skill, has been a primary goal at Audubon Gentilly. Between the fall and winter, the school grew from 51% of third graders scoring at the proficient level to 72% of third graders scoring at the proficient level in reading. Third graders are the oldest group of students and will be the first group to graduate from eighth grade.
  • Within this time-frame, the Gentilly school also grew from 42% of second graders scoring at the proficient level to 54% of second graders scoring at the proficient level in reading. The trajectory was evidence that their approach to literacy was having a positive impact.

According to LaViscount, what sets a Montessori education apart from traditional education lies in peace education, which is underpinned by a philosophy similar to restorative practices and plays an important role in social-emotional growth and safety. Montessori education also has hallmarks rooted in in the Whole Child approach, which includes academic rigor, safety, social-emotional growth and support, health and well-being and engagement. We are sure to hear more great news about Audubon’s Gentilly campus under the leadership of Dr. LaViscount, because obviously, they’re doing something right!

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