Schools
 

New charter organization formed as OPSB officials meet with traditional schools

A month after the Orleans Parish schools superintendent said he’d like the handful of traditional schools still in the system to become charters, a nonprofit was registered with the state today using the same name the system has been using informally for the five schools.

School officials in the fall began casually calling the traditional schools the “ExCEED Network schools.” Today, the Exceed Network Schools Charter Management Organization registered as a nonprofit with the Louisiana Secretary of State.

It’s unclear whether that means all, some or any of the schools will be chartered by the new nonprofit.

The only officer named so far on the Secretary of State’s business database is Coleman Ridley, head of the Business Council of New Orleans. He did not immediately return a call for comment.

Adam Hawf, the chief of staff for Superintendent Henderson Lewis, said the district does not have a formal relationship with the nonprofit.

“It is our understanding that Exceed is going to submit an application,” he said.

Superintendent Henderson Lewis announced in December that the district’s traditional schools would soon transition into charter schools. At the time, he said school leaders had expressed interest in the shift, but he did not provide details. The Lens left messages with each of the five principals today.

Last night, Lewis and other central office leaders met with parents and staff at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, often called Baby Ben. Principal Charlotte Matthew announced the meeting on the school’s website after writing, “We are also in the process of transitioning to a Charter school.”

“The time is right for us to charter prior to the reunification of schools in the OPSB,” she wrote.

A representative of the group asked a Lens reporter to leave the meeting.

Matthew apparently is familiar with the new charter-management organization, or CMO.

In a Dec. 12 letter to parents, she said she thought converting to a charter school would be best for the elementary school.

“The ExCEED CMO would consist of seasoned New Orleans educators and OPSB district leaders who currently oversee operations, academics and finances for the five OPSB network schools and have vast experience in charter and traditional school operations,” she wrote.

Ingrid Thomas has two children at Baby Ben and attended the meeting where parents were allowed to ask questions after stating what they liked about the school, she said in an interview today.

“Everyone was worried about losing our teachers, the culture and identity we have at this school,” Thomas said. “They’re saying we’re going to get more money.”

Thomas said Lewis told parents that charter schools get to keep 98 percent of their funding, with 2 percent directed to the central office. Hawf said direct-run schools pocketed 81.7 percent of their funding last year, but the schools weren’t paying for transportation or other centralized services. If they become charters, that cost will shift to them.

Hawf said the district believes that translates to roughly $1,000 more per student going directly to the school.

At last night’s meeting, parents’ questions were written down and Lewis addressed them all at once, Thomas said.

“It’s the most undemocratic process I’ve ever seen,” Thomas said. ”It was not a free and open space. It was very controlled.”

Last night’s information meeting “was more of a pep rally,” she said.

Thomas said she was surprised by Lewis’s announcement shortly before winter break. Her kids came home with letters in their backpacks the Monday after he broke the news.

In a fall presentation, school system Chief of Network Schools Nicolette London gave an update to the board on ExCEED Network schools. Thomas said she’s heard “Exceed” used throughout the year.

“They’ve been setting the stage for this, but because of the opaqueness we couldn’t see why,” she said.

Thomas still has lots of unanswered questions. She wanted to know if parents and teachers could help write the school’s charter. She pondered the urgency with which district officials are acting and hoped the district would give parents a year.

She also questioned whether becoming a charter would bring savings and cited a report released yesterday that revealed New Orleans schools spend more on administration since the shift to charters.

“We’ve already been given freedoms that charter schools have and those are the same freedom they say we’re going to have,” Thomas said. “But we already have those.”

Thomas said district officials told parents they will get to keep the teachers that are there.

“They’re not talking about what the teachers have to lose from a personal perspective and them walking away,” Thomas said.

Thomas said the process has been a whirlwind. Charter applications are due in mid February.

“We do know also that InspireNOLA is interested in replicating their high school, Karr,” Hawf said.

He said the district will hold another round of meetings with schools then.

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