Closed Idea University Prep Campus Acquired by Aviation-Based Baton Rouge Charter School

June 26, 2024
Helix Aviation Academy, which opened in 2021, seeks to foster careers in aviation, space exploration, and cyber technology.

Jun. 26—Just a month after closing its doors, the IDEA University Prep charter school campus is reopening under a new name with new bosses.

Helix Community Schools has announced it is acquiring the 7701 Plank Road campus and making it the primary home of Helix Aviation Academy. Its current home located a mile north at 4400 Airpark Blvd. will serve as the new high school for the charter school.

Both campuses are close to Baton Rouge Metro Airport. The aviation school, which opened in 2021, seeks to foster careers in aviation, space exploration, and cyber technology.

"We are committed to providing an innovative educational experience for all students to help prepare them for success in and out of the classroom and this is a great opportunity to serve even more families in the Baton Rouge community," Preston Castille, president and CEO of Helix Community Schools, said in a statement. "We already have a strong presence in north Baton Rouge so this will allow us to continue to make a positive impact on our youth, our families and our community as a whole."

Castille is an attorney in Baton Rouge and an elected member of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, or BESE.

IDEA University Prep announced it was closing in late April, and its last day in operation was May 24.

The school opened in 2021, when it took over operations of a low-performing charter school called University Prep, or UP Elementary, and expanded into middle school grades. It grew to more than 600 students, but then began losing enrollment. IDEA officials have cited declining enrollment as one of the reasons for closing the campus.

The school struggled academically during its short run, earning a low "F" letter grade from the state after its first year in operation and improved only slightly after year two.

Helix Aviation Academy has about 180 students in grades six to eight. The plan to is enroll about 100 ninth graders at the Airpark campus and to set up classes for 50 kindergartners and 25 first graders at the Plank Road campus. The school currently has a "D" letter grade.

Helix finalized its deal with Texas-based IDEA Public Schools on June 21. IDEA still operates two other large charter schools in Baton Rouge, and it is asking IDEA University Prep families to transfer to those other schools instead. Both schools currently have "F" letter grades.

"We are grateful for the opportunity for another educational entity to repurpose the facilities and pleased this beautiful property will remain an asset to the community," Jeff Cottrill, CEO and superintendent of IDEA Public Schools, said in a statement. "IDEA remains steadfast in its commitment to serving the families of Baton Rouge as we welcome former IDEA UP families to both IDEA Bridge and IDEA Innovation this August."

Helix officials say they have entered into a $900,000-a-year lease with IDEA for the Plank Road campus with an option to purchase the school at a later date.

The Helix network currently has three schools in Baton Rouge: Helix Mentorship STEAM Academy, a high school, and Helix Legal Academy, a middle school. Both are located in the same building in downtown Baton Rouge. The high school opened its doors in 2010.

Last year, the high school acquired the campus of Franciscan High School, formerly Redemptorist High, after Franciscan High closed. Helix opted to continue the signature corporate work study program that Franciscan ran and do as at the Franciscan campus at 4000 St. Gerard Ave.

Helix is also launching two large new charter schools in 2025 in Opelousas: Helix AI (Artificial Intelligence) and a medical academy known as Helix AIM.


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