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Details of Walker-Landry merger don't alleviate critics' concerns

More than 100 L.B. Landry and O. Perry Walker students, alumni, and parents met with representatives of the Algiers Charter School Association again Wednesday night to discuss a potential plan for a merger of the two West Bank high schools.

It was the latest in a series of public forums the ACSA is hosting to receive input on two major changes facing the Walker community and came four days after officials released more details about what a merged school would look like.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has set two parameters for a combination of the two schools, ACSA interim Chief Executive Officer Adrian Morgan told the crowd: First, all students must attend school at the Landry campus starting in the 2013 year. Second, all staff will be employed by the ACSA, although there are plans to hire some faculty from Landry.

“We know how people feel about it [the merger], let’s leave that for another time. Let’s talk about if there is a merger, how do you want it to happen? What’s important to you,” ACSA board member D’Juan Hernandez said.

Few, however, would comment on a “plan C” for the schools, and instead argued passionately for maintaining the two schools separately.

Some argued for keeping Walker in place and forcing the board to find money for renovations. “Walker has earned the right to have its school restored. You’re setting up a community to divide. KIPP will never have this problem. Lusher will never have this problem,” Dr. Eric Jones said. Jones has authored several charter proposals to take community control of Landry since Hurricane Katrina.

Many in the audience said they fear the merger will trigger turf wars.

“We have NOPD here, they know what happens when you get this area and that area of town together,” said Landry parent Jennifer Garrison. “You can’t misfocus these kids.”

“In the 70’s we fought with fists,” Pastor Bernard Casimier of the Love Outreach Church said. ”Today these kids fight with guns. I don’t want to see another kid stabbed or shot over a school color or a name. It’s guaranteed to be a bad mix.”

Avoiding the merger altogether seemed to be the only plan both high school communities could agree on.

Perhaps the greatest disagreement focused on the name of the future school, currently proposed as Landry Walker High School. Even passionate Walker alumni agreed that the name Landry carried great significance as a black doctor in the community, while O. Perry Walker was an Orleans Parish Schools superintendent who critics described as a staunch segregationist.

“You’re not going to put a liberator with a racist,” Casmimier said.

The ACSA board is also grappling with whether or not to release Walker and two other schools back to OPSB control from Recovery School District oversight, as they are eligible. Meanwhile, the Walker-Landry merger is planned for the 2013-14 school year.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly asserted that the parameters the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education set out for merger of the two schools was connected to whether or not the Algiers Charter Schools Association votes to return O. Perry Walker High to Orleans Parish School Board oversight. ACSA interim CEO Adrian Morgan said the two matters are not connected.

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