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Violence and gang activity draw board's attention; McDonogh 42 takeover stalls

By Yomi Akinyemi, The Lens charter school reporter |

A recent spate of violence that claimed the lives of two students at a nearby school was a focus of the Choice Foundation’s monthly board meeting on May 2.

Principal Mickey Landry said the killing of the two students from KIPP Believe, blocks away from Lafayette, mirror escalating violence around the community in the past few months. The student deaths coincided with the three other deaths among relatives of students at Choice Foundation schools.

“The culture on the streets has infiltrated the kids and swept into the school, Landry said. “Almost every kid in the middle school is either a gang wannabe or has to pretend to be a gang wannabe to avoid the gang culture … It’s getting out of hand.”

Landry faulted the mayor and sheriff for failing to act more decisively.

Landry said the school was doing all it could to stem gang behavior in hallways and classrooms, but its resources are spread thin. And without the full participation from James Carter, the mayor’s “crime guru,” the situation is likely to get worse, Landry said.

Later in the course of the board meeting, Landry announced that he had just received an email from city officials requesting a discussion.

In other news, Landry and Nicole Saulny, Esperanza’s interim principal, expressed concern about the impending shift to the state’s Common Core curriculum standards.

Both principals said the state school board had not provided adequate resources for its schools to prepare. Landry stressed that Louisiana is way behind other states when it comes to the upgrade “because its curriculum is so poor” to begin with.

He said he expected bad results when the new standards are implemented in the 2014-2015 school year.

In an update on McDonogh No. 42, the board said the Treme Charter School Association still intends to challenge BESE’s decision to revoke the  charter that has been transferred to Choice. The board said it was frustrated with the lack of cooperation from the Recovery School District regarding the administrative change.

“TCSA, and to a large extent RSD, have not helped our effort to take over McDonogh 42. … They have left us in the dark over several issues,” Landry said. “RSD have not provided us with any data, including teacher performance scores at the school. They have also yet to release any parent contact information.”

Landry and Fran Trujillo, the board’s appointee as McDonogh No. 42’s principal, plan to meet with RSD officials to discuss their concerns.

In other business, the board voted to accept a $500,000 loan from Capital One to fund its new headquarters, at 3700 Canal St. The  former Grace Episcopal Church building will house Lafayette’s pre-kindergarten  and kindergarten. Renovations will begin later this month.

The board went into an executive session to discuss fundraising efforts and the addition of new board members.

The next meeting is May 30.

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