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Walker community to ACSA board: Let us go and leave us alone

Let us go and leave us alone.

That was the message employees and parents from O. Perry Walker High delivered to the Algiers Charter School Association board members in a contentious meeting Thursday night that drew a passionate crowd of onlookers more than 50 strong.

The 900-student school is facing an uncertain future on two fronts.

The Louisiana Recovery School District in November 2011 ordered up a controversial plan for Walker to merge with local rival L.B. Landry High at a new $54 million facility about a mile down the road.

As faculty and parents fight that 2013 move, they also are begging the school’s governing board to let them leave the Recovery School District and return to the fold of the Orleans Parish School Board. The school is eligible to return to OPSB oversight due to its improved academic performance.

First they spoke out about the planned merger.

“I feel as though you all are our parent,” parent and Walker staff member Darla Henry told the board. “You are supposed to look out for us and you haven’t done a very good job of that.”

The new school should have been built at Walker’s site, she said, not at Landry, where the campus has struggled to maintain acceptable high school enrollment.

“We agree,” board member Dee Fuchs said, “but this is the reality that we have to live with today. How do we make this the best reality for the Walker students? How do we unify and bring the West Bank together?”

ACSA Interim Chief Executive Officer Adrian Morgan said a committee of representatives for both schools will unveil a plan for the merger Saturday at noon during a public meeting at Behrman Charter School Academy of Creative Arts and Sciences.

Colin Brooks, ACSA board chairman, drew from Henry’s analogy in the board’s defense, saying it is operating at the instruction of the state.

“As the parent,” he said, “we’re being told by the bank … that they’re taking the house. So what do we do? Do we put blinders on and bury our heads in the sand and wait until the house is gone and we’re out in the street? Or do we go and try to get a plan for getting into another house?”

But when the conversation turned to what would happen should the ACSA vote to return Walker into the care of the Orleans Parish School Board, things got even more heated.

At one point, outgoing Orleans Parish School Board member Lourdes Moran spoke out from the audience in objection when Brooks stated that members of OPSB had been in support of the merger plan.

“I’m sorry,” Moran said, standing from the audience so that everyone could hear. “That’s incorrect. You weren’t there. You didn’t know.”

Moran said the board was on record in objection to the Recovery School District’s plan to spend “that much money on any one building because … people like their neighborhood schools.”

“Lourdes,” Morgan, the ACSA chief retorted, “I know you and I like you, so I let you finish but when we come to your board meetings we can’t jump up and speak.”

The ACSA board has been given the power to vote on whether to remove Walker, Behrman and Dwight D. Eisenhower Elementary from RSD’s oversight and return them to Orleans.

On Thursday, Brooks said the board would likely vote on that in late December or January.

Faculty members from Walker and Behrman spoke on behalf of their teachers, reporting that their faculty and staffs overwhelmingly support returning to OPSB governance.

“I began my career at Walker before Hurricane Katrina when we were an F school,” Walker teacher Robert Corvo said, “and I know things were not good, in fact they were terrible. However the record of the RSD is nothing to write home about either.”

He said the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which controls the RSD, “has consistently and callously avoided the concerns of students , teachers, parents and community members.

“Point blank,” he said, “they don’t want us and we don’t want them.”

Behrman assistant principal Cherie Goins later stood and led the crowd in a chant of, “We are fully recovered! We are fully recovered!”

And even Kathleen Padian, deputy superintendent of Orleans Parish Schools, spoke from the audience to state that the district is in full support of the return.

Board members said nothing during the meeting to indicate how they plan to vote on the matter.

“I do want you to know that your comments were listened to,” Morgan, the ACSA chief said after public speakers had their say. “I wanted to underscore that there really, really has been an effort to listen.”

A public relations representative for the ACSA board on Friday sent out a schedule for upcoming public forums on both issues.

Besides Saturday’s 12 p.m. forum to unveil the Walker-Landry merger proposal, there will be another public meeting at 6 p.m. on Dec. 12 in order for the board to get feedback on the plan.

The board will hold a separate public forum 6 p.m. on Dec. 11 to hear from the community regarding its upcoming vote on whether to return the school to Orleans Parish oversight.

All three meetings will be held at Behrman’s campus, 715 Opelousas Ave. For more information, visit ACSA’s website.

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