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Board member frustrated at lack of permanent building; recruitment hampered by redevelopment

The absence of a permanent building three years after opening is continuing to weigh heavily on leaders at Lagniappe Academy.

Board member Dan Henderson described a general lack of space and facilities, and trouble attracting new students and teachers, as some of the difficulties of operating a school out of modular buildings.

“It’s an ever-present negative impact on what goes on here,” Henderson said. “The counterbalance is having a great staff who overcomes that. I don’t know if we’re the only school that hasn’t gotten a building yet but we very well could be.”

Henderson also noted the high cost of the modular space during the March 27 board meeting.

Located on St. Louis Street in Treme, Lagniappe was opened to serve students from the immediate area including the Iberville and Lafitte housing developments, and the school’s charter specifies that they will remain in that neighborhood.

In 2011, the state offered Lagniappe the McDonogh 7 building on Esplanade Avenue, but the site was ultimately rejected by the school.

More recently, the Lagniappe board discussed a move to the St. Rose de Lima site on Bayou Road, and were also encouraged by the state to try and procure the Wheatley Elementary School on Dumaine Street.

However, Henderson said there are “currently no possibilities or commitments” from the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Recovery School District.

Earlier this month, John Dibert Community School finalized its plans to move into the Wheatley site now under construction.

Chief Academic Officer Kindall Petri said every RSD contact person with whom the school has worked regarding this issue over the years has left, and that they need to identify a new point person.

Members of the RSD’s Office of School Performance recently made a preliminary site visit to Lagniappe, and Petri said they were impressed by an overall positive school environment.

“They noted a high level of student engagement as well as a high degree of congeniality and collaborative planning amongst staff,” Petri said.

In addition to class observations, the three-hour visit included interviews with leadership and building assessments. A more in-depth visit will be conducted in the fall as part of the RSD’s new Charter School Performance Compact.

Petri said she is looking forward to the more extensive visit to show the district some of the school’s many challenges as well as improvements in student’s views towards education.

“Our kids aren’t just complying because they have to be here, they are really starting to internalize our mission more and more everyday,” Petri said. “They are starting to look at education as being able to do something for them.”

Recruitment is beginning with a unique situation this year because much of the school’s current and prospective population resides in the nearby Iberville housing development, which is in the early stages of demolition and re-development.

Petri said going door to door in the area is a main recruitment tool, but families are starting to be moved out of Iberville.  She noted the students moved will now have to be bused to the school. Petri said about 40 percent of Lagniappe students walk to school.

Families who have lost the right to public housing and moved, or who didn’t return after Hurricane Isaac were cited as common causes for a drop in students throughout the school year.

Lagniappe’s current budget was created for an enrollment of 140 students and was readjusted when the state’s October count showed a drop to 131, school Chief Operating Officer Ninh Tran said.

Tran said enrollment currently stands at 126, and the recruitment goal for next year is to get up to at least 180 students.

The meeting ran from 5:34 p.m. to 6:08 p.m.

The next scheduled board of director’s meeting is Wednesday, April 17.

The following board members were in attendance; Emily Gordy, Henderson, Joseph Kimbrell, and Lee Pryor as well as Head of Special Education Ali McCormick, Petri and Tran.

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  • nickelndime

    So, Lagniappe continues to operate in modular buildings in the parking lot of the closed Winn Dixie grocery store post-Katrina! The school’s continued existence is, in itself, a miracle. Could or would the current board please explain to the public how it is paying a CEO, CFO, (possibly also an events coordinator), and gawd only knows what others administrators, with a student enrollment of 126? Does the board even know what the finances look like and/or how long it anticipates it will be able to hold on? And the school’s SPS is what? Great job, Erin. Stay on this group until the RSD shuts it down, which should not be too long.