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Lack of social services affecting schools, board member says

Members of the Choice Foundation charter board expressed concern Wednesday about the impact of new Common Core curriculum standards.

According to Measure of Academic Progress tests, or assessments that provide educators with the detailed information they need to build curriculum, Choice Foundation schools all scored in the “lower achievement section” for almost every grade for math and English.

The data means that those students need additional support in order to succeed academically, according to national standards.

Board member Mickey Landry also pointed out that, with the higher standards, the prediction is that any student who scored a “basic” on LEAP testing last year will be unsatisfactory next year.

“It’s a train wreck,” Landry said.

But he added that it wasn’t because the foundation’s three schools — Esperanza Charter School, Lafayette Academy Charter School and McDonogh 42 Elementary Charter School — didn’t have good teachers.

It’s because failed city services for underprivileged students, combined with Recovery School District’s OneApp enrollment program, make it difficult for the schools to get a dedicated group of students to return to the same school every year.

“The RSD OneApp program is really not working well for Choice Foundation,” Landry said.

He pointed out that Lafayette was not fully enrolled this year — an incident that has “never happened” before this year. According to Landry, the school had always had long waiting lists. McDonogh 42 also has vacant spots.

Rather than have the same set of kids come back from last year, Landry said that the schools are getting students who have not been taught by Choice Foundation teachers and who are behind grade level.

Moreover, to make up for empty spots, Landry said, the RSD is sending over kids who are enrolling late.

“What kind of kids are those? They’re not the kids you want. They’re almost uniformly way behind,” Landry said. “So it makes our job that much harder.”

The matter is complicated by the fact that the school’s budget could suffer if not enough students enroll.

Landry also said that the RSD was failing to provide adequate services for students who were “highly disruptive,” as was New Schools for New Orleans.

New Schools for New Orleans is a program developed in 2006 to support the accelerating school reform effort. The program helps support the expansion of open-enrollment charter schools, but has been met with criticism from some local school officials.

“They’ve brought in these jokes of organizations to run services for these kids,” Landry said. “It’s not working.”

Landry added that New Orleans suffered from lack of mental health programs, social workers and after-school enrichment, saying schools around the city get “these kids for whom there are no services.”

“These are the kids who end up murdering our kids later,” he added.

Landry said that he had been to three funerals over the summer for boys that were former Lafayette students, all of whom were subjected to the city’s violence.

Moreover, four Choice Foundation students went to jail over the summer, he added.

He pointed to an article about a recent triple murder of a mother and her two children, pointing out that one of those kids was a Lafayette Academy graduate.

“You take a look at what that boy was living with,” Landry said. “Now, he was a squirrel. He was a pain in the you-know-what. But he was a smart kid. He was capable.”

Landry said that when the student was with Choice Foundation’s teachers, he would behave, for the most part, and do his work.

“But without the support from this city for the services that those children need and those families need, this is what we end up with,” Landry said.

He didn’t blame the lack of services on the RSD “too much.”

“The truth be told, Orleans Parish doesn’t have them, and they never did,” Landry said. “But unless we get these services for these kids, and unless we straighten out these neighborhoods, how do we expect our teachers to do their jobs?”

Moreover, any progress that the teachers are making isn’t recognized, Landry said.

“It’s this foolish, no-excuses model, where it doesn’t matter who you have, you’re supposed to get them on grade level right away,” Landry said. “That just is not possible.”

Board member Kate Werner expressed concern with the number of kids that Choice Foundation schools were getting who were behind grade level.

“If we keep getting new kids who are way behind the curve, but we’ve done an extraordinary job with the kids we’ve retained, we’re going to reverse our trend,” Werner said. “Is there any way to counter that?”

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    McDonogh 42 was opened by the Recovery School District (RSD) in February of 2007 as a school of last resort for elementary grade students. The first class included about 300 students who had been wait-listed for more than a month because the RSD claimed all of the schools it had taken over in 2005- 2006 were full. It was because of the lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union, that McDonogh 42 was fast tracked to open for students who had nowhere else to go. McDonogh 42 had 475 students in May of 2007.

    Treme Charter School Association, Inc. (TCSA) chartered the school in June of 2007 and opened McDonogh 42 Elementary Charter School in August with 475 students. Only 75 children remained from the previous RSD governed population. In 2007 – 2008, the other 400 students came from 113 different schools across the country, the state and the city. Maintaining a stable student body was a challenge for the staff 7 years ago and it seems as if that has not changed. But one thing has changed; it is the attitude of the operators. I want to think that Mickey Landry, CEO for
    the Choice Foundation, spoke in haste about the RSD sending late enrollees to the schools, if the LENS’ comment attributed to him is accurate:

    “What kind of kids are those? They’re not the kids you want. They’re almost uniformly way behind,” Landry said. “So it makes our job that much harder.”

    TCSA knew exactly the population it was taking on when we chartered ” the school of last resort.” Anyone who could walk, run, or crawl through the door was welcomed. We sought out the children that were shuffled around after Hurricane Katrina with the intention of creating a stable environment for the families. 15% of the population was homeless and 98% qualified for free or reduced lunch. In spite of the obstacles faced by the students, most of whom lived their lives in poverty, the first three years showed signs of progress. At the end of its first year of operation, the school’s 2008 Assessment Score was up to 48.8 from the dismal 2007 RSD Assessment score of 34.4 (on the 200-point scale). The first School Performance Score (SPS) of 62 in 2009, indicated growth. By spring 2010, the SPS was
    65.3. McDonogh 42 was no longer on the list of Academically Unacceptable Schools!

    But in 2011 – 2012, the SPS “Acceptable School” bar was raised. Our enrollment was 555; minority rate was 99.1% and Federal free/Reduced Meal Eligibility was 99.8%. With its eye on the 2011 goal of an SPS of 75 and hoping for faster academic growth, TCSA changed leadership at the school. Unfortunately, with that change in leadership, the school’s progress only faltered. The SPS dropped to 62.6 in spring 2011. A letter grade of F- was assigned.

    Louisiana Department of Education administrators conducted a 3rd year review in 2010 and stated that the financial state of the school would weigh more heavily than the academic progress on a charter renewal decision. TCSA focused on making sure its financial house was in order by hiring a CEO. Financial reports were returned on time, garnering an “Excellent” rating on the Annual Financial Report for its final two years. The external audits were equally impressive with two years’ of final determinations of Unqualified Opinions with no Material Weaknesses. However, high ratings in financial matters and governance procedures did not mean anything in determining the fate of TCSA.

    By November 2011, the BESE announced that TCSA’s charter for McDonogh 42 would not be renewed due
    to lack of (flat) academic growth. It was disappointing, but acknowledged, that the school’s progress was unacceptable. TCSA’s leaders pleaded withBESE for more time, citing the same challenges being offered by Mr. Landry in this article. BESE’s decision to change operators, instead of helping us, was a heart-breaking and debilitating blow that contributed to a dismal closing SPS of 56 by the end of TCSA’s era at McDonogh 42. Admittedly, the students deserved a better chance at academic success.

    The Choice Foundation stepped in and took over McDonogh 42 in August of 2012. By the end of 2013, the first principal had resigned and the school’s assessment score was down to 38.1 (on the 150-point scale)! It is back on the LDOE list of Academically Unacceptable Schools. When you take the students that nobody wants,
    the job is harder, whether they come through choice (One App) or Choice (pun intended).

    The Choice Foundation received an Investing in Innovation (i3) 2012 School Opening Grant in the amount of $887,198 to turn around this failing school over 3 years. A massive building renovation project of the 7th ward campus, estimated at $14,820,000 including renovations and additions, resulted in the students moving to the temporary campus of Carver Elementary this year. A dynamic new principal has been hired. Now, we hear that enrollment has dropped (attributed to OneApp).

    “It’s this foolish, no-excuses model, where it doesn’t matter who you have, you’re supposed to get them on grade level right away,” Landry said. “That just is not possible.”

    Mr. Landry, TCSA understands your pain. But, BESE gave the charter to the Choice Foundation because they thought academic success was possible. Lafayette Academy is thriving and Esperanza School is showing progress.
    I hope that McDonogh 42’s turn in next. The students STILL deserve a better chance.

    Roslyn J. Smith, Ph.D.

    Former President

    Treme Charter School Association, Inc.