RSD turns over 5 schools to charter groups, closes another; vocational efforts unveiled

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By Jessica Williams, The Lens staff writer |

The Recovery School District announced today which charter operators next year will manage five schools that are now directly run by the district.

It also unveiled new career and technical programs to be instituted within the district’s high schools as early as next fall. The charter management groups overseeing the high schools will work with area businesses to develop these trade programs.

Charter school conversions for next year include:

  • Walter L. Cohen, to be operated by New Orleans College Preparatory Academies, Inc.
  • John McDonogh Senior High School, to be operated by The Future is Now
  • Schwarz Academy, to be operated by Crescent Leadership Academy
  • G. W. Carver High School, to be operated by Collegiate Academies
  • Joseph Craig Elementary, to be operated by Friends of King, Inc.

The district also announced that McDonogh #42 Charter School next year will be operated by The Choice Foundation. The state school board stripped the charter from the group running the school now, Treme Charter School Association, as the school continues to struggle to bring up student achievement scores. The Treme Charter group has vowed to fight the move, though.

Additionally, Dr. Charles Drew Elementary, previously an RSD direct-run school, will close at the end of this academic year. RSD officials said they will work with the high-performing KIPP New Orleans to expand capacity to accept former Drew students.

The moves leave the Recovery School District directly running just 10 schools. The district initially took control of more than 100 low-performing schools shortly after Hurricane Katrina, turning many of them over to charter operators.

The transfer to charter managers announced today frustrated some community members, who showed up at the news conference. Though the RSD in November announced its plans to charter or phase out these schools and five others, and hosted several community meetings at each school slated for transformation, protesters today complained  about the district’s selection of charter operators.

Frank Buckley, an alumnus of John McDonogh, said that he doesn’t support RSD’s selection of the Future Is Now as McDonogh’s charter operator. The charter group has Los Angeles roots.

“Why is it that we have to go all the way to California, when we’ve got educated people here, that can do the same thing that the people from California want to do?” Buckley asked RSD officials. Buckley also accused the district of not listening to community concerns.

Karran Harper Royal, a longtime charter school opponent, said that the new programs are not the issue, but rather the RSD’s lack of community engagement through the charter selection process.

“They kept this community at bay so they could bring in the operators they wanted,” she said.

Dobard said that while school conversions can be difficult, the district is committed to working with parents and community members to ensure that the process is “respectful.”

The district’s new trade programs, which will feature job shadowing, internships, and interviews for entry-level positions upon program completion, are an attempt to reduce what the district says are the high numbers of high school graduates who leave the system unprepared for the workforce, district Superintendent Patrick Dobard said.

“We’re not going to work in isolation,” he said. “We’re going to work in partnership with these businesses, as they tell us what they need, so we’re going to create the curriculum to match those things exactly.”

Programs will give students industry-based certifications in health care, construction, digital media, culinary arts, and the petro-chemical industry. The RSD’s current business partners include the Louisiana Restaurant Association, Greater New Orleans, Inc., Delgado Community College, and Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc., among others. Dobard said the district welcomes other partnerships.

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