Schools
 

Live blog: School district officials explain plan to close Mahalia Jackson Elementary

This year, families at Mahalia Jackson Elementary School have lurched from chartering to closure to uncertainty.

Citing low enrollment, Orleans schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. wants to close the Central City school at the end of next school year. But the school board has held off on that decision.

At a meeting tonight, Lewis and other school officials will explain the decision to families and allow them to voice their concerns. The public is invited to the meeting, which will be held at the school, 2405 Jackson Ave. It starts at 6:30 p.m.; we’ll live-blog it here.

This is the first of two community meetings to be held since Lewis informed parents and teachers on April 12 that he would recommend closing the school in spring 2018.

In a written statement, Lewis said the school district “is committed to fostering great school choices for every family while also being financially sustainable and operationally efficient. … This recommendation is not easy, nor is it one we take lightly. The impact to students, families and staff is, and always will be, OPSB’s primary consideration.”

Until April, the C-rated elementary school seemed to be on track to become a charter school under the ExCEED Network Schools Charter Management Organization, a group formed by several school district staffers, including Jackson’s principal.

But the week before Lewis was to decide whether to turn Mahalia Jackson over to ExCEED along with several other schools, he told parents them he wanted to close it. The main reason, according to the school district, is underenrollment.

Mahalia Jackson was 10 percent below its enrollment target last fall. That was better than at least 14 other elementary schools.

The school has grown each year since it opened, but the growth rate had declined in recent years.

According to emails obtained through a public records request, Lewis had decided at the end of March to close the school. At his request, the school wasn’t allowed to admit any new students for next fall unless they were siblings of current students. Fewer than five were admitted.

A school board committee approved Lewis’ plan to close Mahalia Jackson, but the full board held off after people criticized it. Board member Ben Kleban, whose district includes the school, said enrollment was not a “solid rationale” to close the school.

He spoke about the future of the building and said the school could be turned over to a charter organization after next school year.

A second meeting will be held at the school at 10 a.m. Saturday. It too is open to the public.

Live blog: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday

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