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Board vows to move forward with plans to incubate two high schools at Carver

The board of Collegiate Academies voted Thursday to move forward with its commitment to establish and run two high schools in the space previously occupied by the failing George Washington Carver High School. The transition, opposed by a Carver alumni group, is scheduled for the coming school year.

The board discussed how tempers flared between the board and the alumni group after the Recovery School District turned the failing school over to Collegiate Academies.

The alumni group has said publicly there was no input from the community about the change in management and expressed its desire to keep Carver High School as it is.

Board members on Thursday acknowledged that race is an underlying issue. The board has a white majority while the community and the school is largely black.

Thursday’s special board meeting was held to address the opposition group, but no one from the general public was in attendance.

Some board members said they were concerned about whether they could run a successful school without the support of the community. Betty Washington, a leader of the Carver alumni group, has asked the board to walk away from Carver, board members said.

“There has to be a point where we say, ‘Enough is enough,’” said board member William Langenstein. “We don’t want to make it an environment that’s not conducive (to learning).”

Collegiate Academies runs the New Orleans Charter Science and Math Academy, a high school in New Orleans East. The school, also known as Sci Academy, recently announced that 95 percent of its graduates will attend four-year colleges next year. The group hopes to bring that level of success to the Carver campus. Seventy percent of Carver students were performing below their grade levels, according to the school’s 2010-11 state report card.

The Collegiate Academy board’s plan is to open two small high schools on the Carver campus starting with ninth grades and adding one grade per year at each of the two schools.

Students are already enrolled for the ninth grade next year, said Benjamin Marcovitz, the chief executive officer of Collegiate Academies.

The plan for Carver has the support of the Recovery School District. Marcovitz read a letter of support from RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard at Thursday’s meeting.

Encouraging words also came from Michael Stone, with the non-profit New Schools for New Orleans, who attended the meeting in support of the board’s decision to run Carver.

“The opportunity to create these schools is incredibly important. I’m thrilled at the prospect,” Stone said. He added that Carver needs a board like Collegiate Academies in order to improve the educational landscape.

“There is a moral imperative here,” Stone said. “You’re making a huge commitment to Carver.”

While board members voted to move forward with their plan to run two schools on Carver’s campus, they acknowledged that the lack of support from the community has been discouraging.

Marcovitz said this wasn’t the first time he’s had to prove himself to the community. “You’re not going to have positive encounters until you see results,” he said. “I’ve always had to prove myself. I did it with Sci Academy, and I’ll have to do it with the new school.”

Board chair Susan Norwood appointed an ad hoc committee to be a liaison between the Carver Alumni group and the board and discussed ways to garner support in the community, including engaging a mediator. They said they hope supporters from the community will come forward.

“We’d like to hear some friendly voices,” member Diana Lewis said.

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