School Board concerned over firings in Algiers Charter Schools

The first round of cuts has surfaced from the Algiers Charter School Association’s bid to improve student performance by terminating and moving around principals, and so far, it’s not only principals who’ve been targeted.

At least one termination, at Edna Karr High School, is in violation of the Orleans Parish School Board’s contract with the charter school group, School Board officials say.

O. Perry Walker Assistant Principal Taisha Williams-Payne and Dwight Eisenhower Charter School Assistant Principal Rulonda Green have been asked to leave their respective schools, in addition to at least two Eisenhower teachers, a parent liaison and a secretary. They weren’t given a reason, they said.

Faculty members say at least five others at Eisenhower have been let go, but The Lens was unable to confirm this point. It’s also unclear who was terminated at Karr.

The cuts come shortly after interim Chief Academic Officer Aamir Raza, of Raza Consulting Group, was appointed to his post. Raza’s methods have endured much criticism from teachers since he first began working with the Algiers group last May. His position as CAO gives him the ability to make termination decisions, an association spokesman said.

The Orleans Parish School Board issued a cease and desist letter to the Algiers charter group on Monday after the Board was informed of the Karr cuts, Deputy Superintendent of Charter Schools Kathleen Padian said.

It’s a violation of the School Board’s contract with the charter group for the group to fire any employees without prior board approval at Harte or Karr. The principal must also recommend school employees for termination. The principal was not aware of the cuts made at Karr, and didn’t make any recommendations, the letter said. Neither was the School Board notified.

After the Board signed a charter agreement with the Algiers group to continue managing Karr and Harte, Padian said she “thought we were moving in a positive direction,” but now, “their consultant, Aamir Raza, has not been following the contract.”

The cease and desist order says that if the Algiers group continues the terminations without board and principal approval, the School Board could cancel the group’s charter management agreement.

Algiers Charter School Association spokesman David Jackson contends that the contract allows the organization to make termination decisions below the levels of principal and assistant principal.

In a statement issued earlier this week, the group said it would fire principals at its lower-performing schools and move principals from higher-performing schools in their stead. It would either hire new talent to fill the gap at high-scoring schools, or promote from within. The group also said it would make staff changes in the central office, to streamline operations.

But the statement didn’t mention that any teachers, or assistant principals, would be fired. The news came as a shock to Payne, she said.

“There was no indication, no pre-warning. No one talked to me,” she said.

Green, of Eisenhower, also said that she was not given a reason—only a reminder that her employment was at-will.

When the board announced Raza’s appointment to the interim chief academic officer position at its May meeting, Green was one of many employees present in the audience with strong opinions against the decision.

She received the nonrenewal less than a month later.

Parent liaison Asia Chapman, who was also let go, said that Raza seems to have targeted Eisenhower employees who didn’t agree with his methods.

“When Aamir came in to consult with our school, anyone who didn’t agree with him, or voiced their opinions, were let go,” she said.

Raza was not immediately available for comment.

The board has an executive session scheduled for 8 a.m. Friday to discuss personnel evaluations, likely pertaining to Raza’s decisions. The board’s next general meeting is set to be held on June 28.

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About Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams stays on top of the city's loosely organized collection of public schools, with a special emphasis on charter schools. In 2011 she was recognized by the Press Club of New Orleans for her reporting on charter school transparency and governance. In 2012, she was part of a team that received a National Edward R. Murrow Award for their work following a New Orleans family's recovery after Hurricane Katrina. She graduated from Edna Karr Secondary School in Algiers, and she obtained her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. She can be reached at (504) 575-8191.

  • D. spencer

    I don’t understand how these Raza people can come here and terminate people instantly. So if you don’t agree with someone it’s ok for that someone to take your job, while they’re making such extreme salaries. I really don’t see where Charter Schools have made a big difference since Katrina. Teachers need assistance not termination.

  • Alicia Brown

    I am writing to share my experience as a fired teacher of Dwight D. Eisenhower of Global Studies. I was fired on May 25, 2012 due to “reorganization” this is the excuse that was given to me by the principal. To see your colleagues sit and witness the demise of others was a horrific event I shall never forget. During a leadership meeting in February I voiced concerns about Raza’s action plan and because I had done so, I too was one of the four employees that were fired that was on the leadership team as well. For it was the leadership team that interviewed the new principal, we encouraged parents to keep their children at Eisenhower, we rolled up our sleeves and helped to assist our overwhelmed teachers that were ready to give up, we worked tirelessly to help Deanna Rogers and because we had concerns and voiced them we all were fired! We are all aware that our employment is “at will” but this is nothing but an act of retailiation. As I stated in my farewell address to my colleagues, I’m bigger not bitter but to this day, my heart is heavy because this was an act of injustice.