With Uncertainty Gone, Parents Flock to Mainland Preparatory Academy to Enroll their Children

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rooklyn and Jaelyn Burnett find it difficult to sit still while their mother Melanie Burnett fills out paperwork to re-enroll them for kindergarten at Mainland Preparatory Academy in LaMarque. The twin sisters poke and tease one another, trying to keep themselves entertained. Ms. Burnett quiets them as she finishes the last of the forms.

She was excited to bring her girls back to Mainland Prep after selecting the school last year based on what she had heard about the reading program. “They were here for Pre-K and they were reading by the end of the year. Not just memorizing, they were reading,” she said.

After a successful first year in the program, Ms. Burnett faced the possibility that Mainland Prep might not be able to open its doors this year due to financial issues in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike in 2008. She worried about sending her daughters to another school. “I looked at the curriculum in our home district and what they are doing in kindergarten. My daughters had already done it in Pre-K. I was wondering what we were going to do with them,” she said.

Now that Mainland Prep is part of Lewisville-based Responsive Education Solutions (ResponsiveEd), financial pressures are less of an issue, and she is relieved that her daughters will be able to continue to attend the school that got them off to such a great start.

The girls are looking forward to the school year. “I like to read,” said Jaelyn, while her sister, Brooklyn, said she likes to write sentences. This year they are ready to learn new things in kindergarten. “Subtract, I want to learn how to subtract,” said Jaelyn after explaining how she already knows how to add.

For other parents, like Brook Jacobs, who is re-enrolling two of her four children, having the stability of Mainland Prep is important. Transportation difficulties forced Ms. Jacobs to send her children to a different school for several years, but she returned to Mainland Prep as soon as she could.

“The education is unmatched,” she said. With an excellent curriculum, she said the teachers ensure the students excel. “All the teachers are willing to stay after [school] even when they don’t have to, when they aren’t scheduled for tutorials. They come in early if the kids need it. It is all centered on the well-being and education of the kids.”

“They are teachers, they are not just people who teach,” said Ms. Jacobs. According to her, the teachers continue their interest and care for their students even after the student leave their classroom. Ms. Jacobs recalled her son Kaleb’s former kindergarten teacher, Marilyn Fanus, as one of the teachers who tracked her son through school. Kaleb just completed the eighth grade, but Ms. Fanus remembered his interests and introduced him to a summer camp for engineering this summer.

In addition to keeping the students focused and motivated, she appreciates how the teachers reinforce the values she sets for her children. “They need structure, to be taught to be somebody in life and not just do whatever they want to do,” Ms. Jacobs said.

For newly enrolling parents like Christinia Carter, Mainland Prep’s reputation of strong academics, curriculum and parent satisfaction drew her to the school. She decided she would send her daughter Kourtney to kindergarten at Mainland Prep shortly before the concern over whether the school would stay open arose. However, that did not deter her.

“I had faith they would open up again if we gave it some time. You don’t want to think about what is the worst thing that is going to happen, you try to think about what is the next best thing that is going to happen. I think them [staying open] is the next best thing. I think there is a very bright future for Mainland Prep,” said Ms. Carter.

A desire to ensure the bright future of Mainland Prep motivated State Board of Education member David Bradley to connected Mainland Preparatory Academy with ResponsiveEd, Texas’ largest charter school operator. He issued Diane Merchant and Wilma Green the school’s charter in 1998 and has maintained interest in the school since then. He continued to monitor the school as it suffered the ill-effects of the post-hurricane period, including a drop in enrollment and increased financial burdens. Bradley was determined to make sure these obstacles did not stand in the way of what the school is accomplishing.

“They have demonstrated to the world that children can read regardless of income, race or environment. It is important to me that the community not lose a valuable school that continues to set an example of what education can be” said Mr. Bradley.

Gwen Abshire, ResponsiveEd’s regional director of operations in Houston, was glad Bradley thought of the charter district when deciding how to help the school.

“ResponsiveEd is happy to help ensure that the LaMarque community will continue to have access to the exceptional education provided by Mainland Preparatory Academy. I do not see this as a change. Mainland Prep shares our education standards with core values, a character based education and a professional environment based on respect in order to raise children to a higher standard,” she said.

Mainland Prep plans to increase enrollment to 500 students this fall and will continue to accept applications until it reaches its enrollment goal.

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Bridget Weisenburger

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