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State school board tentatively approves charter changes

Next school year, the boards of Akili Academy and Harriet Tubman Charter School will combine. Lagniappe Academy is cutting back on its enrollment, and Lycée Francais de la Nouvelle Orleans is set to expand.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education today approved these changes in and three others during a committee meeting. Their actions didn’t differ from State Superintendent John White’s recommendations.

The two school boards, Akili Academy of New Orleans and Crescent City Schools, made the decision to merge in the 2012-2013 school year after Akili executive director Sean Gallagher announced his decision to leave the school at the end of this year, Akili officials told the state. Crescent City School chief executive officer Kate Mehok will take on Gallagher’s role.

“The Akili Board of Directors is confident that under the leadership of Mrs. Mehok and the Crescent City Schools Board of Directors, Akili Academy will continue to lead its students to achieve academic growth and success,” Akili’s request for a change in contract reads.

Akili and Crescent City’s partnership is unique in that the two groups reached out to each other to arrange a union. In 2010, the board of Langston Hughes Academy and the charter operator Firstline Schools made a somewhat similar arrangement, although Firstline is only contracted to manage Hughes, and the school’s board still remains intact.

Though the board’s approval of Akili and Crescent City’s merger went by relatively smoothly, when Lagniappe Academy and Lycee Francais were approved for changes to enrollment, board members raised a few concerns.

Lottie Beebe, who for the last few board meetings has proven to be the lone voice of opposition to many of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education reforms, said that she had concerns that Lagniappe may be cutting out third and fourth grades to escape a level of accountability testing. The school now serves kindergarteners, first-graders, fifth-graders and sixth-graders. It asked to add second grade and seventh grade, but drop fifth grade due to limited space in the school building.

“My contention is you don’t have an SPS and you’re touting all of this accountability, but yet how can we assure parents that this charter is effective in making progress?” Beebe asked in an interview after the meeting.

A kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school’s performance score is calculated using both the state’s high-stakes LEAP test, which students take in fourth grade, and its preliminary iLEAP test, which third-, sixth-, and seventh-graders take. Lagniappe’s school performance score last year was a 57.4, a failing score. Beebe didn’t make clear how not including third and fourth grades leads to a school not having a performance score.

White maintained that any changes to the school would not affect accountability measures.

“All we’re saying is that we’re not going to enter a new crop of fifthgrade students next year,” he told the board.

The board voted to allow Lycée Francais to add a second grade next year, after questioning board member Jean Montes. State board members wanted to know what resources the French-immersion school would make available for students not skilled in French. Montes said that students without French backgrounds would receive summer tutoring.

The full state school board will hold its meeting Friday at 10:45 a.m., where these recommendations are expected to be approved.

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