Schools
 

All RSD students will be assigned through central office, ending fractured system

By Jessica Williams and Michael Patrick Welch, The Lens staff writers |

Working to fulfill a promise made months ago, the Recovery School District is taking over enrollment for each of its 50 charter schools in New Orleans. That means the officials running the independent schools will no longer have sole discretion in determining which students come to their schools.

RSD Superintendent John White said the move to a centralized system is in response to myriad complaints from parents, who said dealing with many individual schools was cumbersome and confusing.

State school board officials approved changes last month that make the centralization possible, and White wants to have a system in place not long after a series of December public hearings to gather further parent input.

Photo courtesy of RSD website

The plan initially was detailed in White’s set of commitments to change the district, released in September. The goal is to make RSD’s central offices a one-stop shop for parents looking to put their kids in RSD charters. The change will be in effect for the school year that begins in August, but the deadline for applications likely will be much sooner.

This will not necessarily affect other public schools in New Orleans, though they could opt in. That includes schools chartered or directly run by the Orleans Parish School Board, as well as those directly chartered by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Those categories account for about 25 percent of the city’s charters.

Parents interested in schools that choose not to participate still will have to research those application processes and deadlines, some of which fall as early as January.

Under the new RSD plan, parents will fill out one application, ranking their top school choices. The district will then, to the best of its ability, match each student with the top choice, district officials say. The district also will control any lottery process for each school. Lotteries are necessary when more students apply to a school than it can accommodate. By combining separate school lotteries into one central lottery and distributing seats equally across the district, the district aims to ensure that each child has a seat in a school.

But the idea of a centralized system of enrollment runs counter, in part, to the idea that each independent charter school is, in fact, independent.

Schools will still share some responsibility in the new enrollment process, including student recruitment and registration. But RSD will take on the brunt of assigning students to schools. White said that while it is unlikely that students and parents will not be assigned one of their initial choices, RSD is still taking input on the plan, and still needs to work out a few kinks with it before it launches early next year.

“We are still engaged in discussions,” White said. “We’ve got four meetings in December to talk to parents in a public venue, and we’ve been engaged for months with the schools and charter management groups.”

The first meeting is scheduled for Nov. 30 at 6:30 p.m., according to the RSD website, though the listed location of 2736 S. Carrollton Ave. is the site of Mr. Chill’s barbershop.

The centralized enrollment system was a top request among stakeholders during his community and parent task force meetings, held earlier this year, White said. The plan is aimed to make the selection process easier on parents – and serve as a response to parent complaints that some charters, open enrollment by definition, have cherry-picked students and rejected special needs kids.

“When we say equal choice, we mean equal choice for all kids,” White said.

At a recent McDonogh City Park Academy board meeting, school officials expressed concern that the process may infringe on charter schools’ authority.

“I am not happy they’re taking away our autonomy,” said Carmelite Price, coordinator of school services and enrollment. “Existing students, students’ siblings and neighborhood kids will get priority, and we can still recruit students to fill out applications, but this means no more public lottery. We’ll be told who is accepted. It will be scary not knowing which students we have until the last minute.”

Board president Mary Kay Parker had a more positive view on the change.

“Along with making sure every student is allowed access to these schools and won’t suffer bias,” Parker said, “parents will no longer have to spend time going to each school to find out if they have an opening. They can go to one central location and find out everything the want to know.”

Parker, however, also said, “I do worry we might not get enough students and it will mess with our budget, which would effect our ability to hire special ed teachers and such.”

An official with the KIPP network, which runs nine RSD charters serving 2,500 students, said such anxiety naturally comes with running charters.

“That is something that always happens at charters, no matter who is managing the enrollment,” said Jonathan Bertsch, KIPP’s director of advocacy.

Bertsch was invited by the RSD to serve on a panel of advisers who would help map out how the enrollment transition will take place, and how the shift will be perceived publicly.

The transition committee also includes officials from other charters including Firstline Schools, New Orleans College Prep, Harriet Tubman and New Orleans Math and Science Academy.

Bertsch said a central clearinghouse for school assignments is necessary because of the sheer number of charters.

“As a city with 80 percent charters, this is important. If it goes off without a hitch, it will be a more elegant solution to the sort of chaotic way it has been handled,” he said. “Anything that makes this process easier for parents and family is important. This will guarantee everyone will get a fair shake.

“It’s something I’ve heard families ask for.”

Help us report this story     Report an error    
The Lens' donors and partners may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover.
  • Kpsmove

    I thought Charter Schools were supposed to be independent and have no central authority? HMM sounds like a return to Bureaucratic actions but this time for profit good luck with that.
    The game is now in play.

  • Kpsmove –

    “Independence” or autonomy was supposed to lead the way to innovation or creativity or effective solutions to perceived or real problems with traditional public schools. It, however, has come to mean only change for the sake of change and exemption from rules and regulations designed for the protection of children and their right to a free, individualized, appropriate education.

    Much like “choice” innovation has not seen the light of day. I don’t think choosing the school you would like to go to in your fondest dreams is the same as you choose and then you go there.

    “I am not happy they’re taking away our autonomy,” said Carmelite Price, coordinator of school services and enrollment. “Existing students, students’ siblings and neighborhood kids will get priority, and we can still recruit students to fill out applications, but this means no more public lottery. We’ll be told who is accepted. It will be scary not knowing which students we have until the last minute.” – Ms. Price’s FEAR of students is indicative of one of the many problems with the conduct of the RSD charters. How about if you take taxpayer money, you serve the taxpayers just like traditional public schools do.

    Board President Parker hit the nail on the head – profit motive. “I do worry we might not get enough students and it will mess with our budget, which would effect our ability to hire special ed teachers and such.” No – Ms. Parker – you have to hire special ed teachers “and such” because that’s what you need to teach children. Several teachers at schools like McDonogh and Sojourner Truth not only don’t have teachers for some classes, they aren’t providing children with books according to state law. When will the new “accountability” measures kick into affect for these charters and who will hold them accountable?

  • mpw

    I am the writer who took the quotes from Carmelite and just wanted to say that she did not seem “scared” of students. Her fear stemmed from not knowing what to prepare for.

    And regarding the special ed teachers: at that meeting they were discussing hiring an EXTRA one, beyond what was required, and I believe that was the sort of thing they were worried about in that quote about the budget.

  • mrs. pac

    well, as a person who has first hand knowledge about these charter schools forst i like to talk about accountability. Renew Charter Organization pride themselves on accepting all students especially those students with disabilities that they claim no one else wants to deal with. well someone need to check into Batiste Cultural Arts Academy where they claim to pput the kids first. i want to say that BCAa is nothing but a boot camp and they mis use and abuse students expecially sped students. they are out of compliance when it come to implementing IEP’s, they falsify documents pertaining to minutes served, they falsify attendance records,there is not enough sped teachers to provide service minutes to all the students who require it, they use corporal punishment when children dont follow directions or misbehave,by making them write 100 lines, and for these matters and more they do not fill their enrollment to fukll capacity. dont believe the lies they tell including from the ceo, Gary. he is a big liar just like his cousin the prejudice one on the BESE board who fails to listen to parents and only see things one way. parents have phoned the school and Dr. marcell, the director of sped services since last school year informing them that their child was coming home saying certain employees were putting their hands on the child. they push it under the rug. so to me all the schools need to returned back the rightful people who ran thing before Hurricane Katrina but under stiffer accountability guidlines.