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New Orleans College Prep to take over Crocker in June

New Orleans College Prep leaders on Saturday laid out their plans to take over Crocker Arts and Technology this summer.

News of the management transfer came last week after the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted not to renew Crocker’s charter due to its students’ poor standardized test scores.

Crocker’s school performance score sits at a failing 64.8 for the 2012-13 school year.

For now, the New Orleans College Prep leaders told Crocker’s management board, their goals will include improving school performance, acting with integrity and gradually increase enrollment.

Crocker board president Grisela Jackson and principal Charmaine Robertson will be meeting with the Recovery School District officials on Dec. 20 to begin the transfer process.

“We tried to do everything right from the beginning, so there’s no reason for us to not do right by our kids and our school now just because we won’t be around,” Jackson said.

Ben Kleban, director of New Orleans College Prep, told the board that he was excited about the future, and highlighted similar student populations and demographics between Crocker and the three schools currently run by the organization.

“Being truly open-enrollment is our number one goal,” Kleban said. “We know our first responsibility is to our families. Scores and accolades are not bigger than doing right by our kids.”

Current Crocker students are guaranteed a spot at the school for the 2013-14 school year, however Robertson was not asked to return as principal. Kleban said classroom observations are the most vital tool in deciding which Crocker teachers will be kept on staff.

Kleban praised Roberton’s leadership during what could be an otherwise awkward transition. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for her,” Kleban said. “She has handled this with poise and grace and the kids are her number one priority. I respect her a great deal.”

The board echoed their support and admiration for Robertson, with Jackson saying the principal has “done great things with little money, and always kept students taken care of.”

Robertson did not attend the meeting due to a student field trip.

In recent months, the RSD has commended Crocker for its work with special education students, and Jackson pointed to like-minded priorities within NOCP as a reason they were chosen to take over.

“We’ve never turned a child away. We do whatever we can to educate them, and to affect their lives in a positive way,” Jackson said. “I feel good about that being NOCP’s policy.”

The school’s focus on arts and technology education will remain, as will it’s moniker.

Encore Academy, who shares Crocker’s Marengo Street location, will also be affected by the transition. According to Mr. Kleban, the Recovery School District has informed Encore that after one more year in the space, they will need to re-locate.

Kimberly Williams, owner of New Millennium Education, is assisting Crocker’s board with the transition, and pointed out that the current situation allows for more input than usual. Williams, who consults with schools during closures and transitions, is currently providing her services to Crocker free of charge.

“You are in a very unique position,” Williams said. “You are able to not only transition, but you were able to engage in conversation with the powers that be, and choose (NOCP). You now have six months of time to help parents understand why this is a good option, and how things will be better.”

Kleban expressed hope for continuity within the school’s governance and said once skill sets are reviewed, “at least one to two board members may remain, to merge the vision of the existing board with that of NOCP.”

The seven-member board was complimented on the work that’s been done since the school began in 2006. “I am humbled by what you all have accomplished, Kleban said. “I know how hard it’s been. I don’t come into this feeling that we are better than anyone. You all should be proud of a tough road.”

Throughout the two-hour meeting, board members listened quietly to what is in store for the school, and president Jackson remained firmly optimistic about the emotional situation.

“It’s hard to hand over our kids,” Jackson said. “But I feel Ben and his organization represent the kind of care we have for our kids. They can follow through on that. This school has been a labor of love from everybody.”

A meeting for parents will be held at the school on Monday, Jan. 7 at 6 p.m. Representatives from the Recovery School District and New Orleans College Prep will be present.

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