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ACSA puts controversial personnel moves on hold after crowd chants: “Raza must go”

More than 300 members of the Algiers community gathered at the McDonogh 32 Literacy Charter School to speak out against recent firings and the transfer of successful principals to failing schools within the charter organization.

A call and response chant of “Raza must go” and “erase the board” came following the end of an unofficial public comment section and disrupted the regularly scheduled Algiers Charter School Association board meeting Thursday, June 28.

“Raza must go” is a reference to Amir Raza, a controversial leader who worked as a consultant to the Algiers Charter School Association, and who was recently hired as interim Chief Academic Officer.

The board made it clear that the public comment session, held before the meeting was called to order, would not be part of the public record. According to board members, the period for public comments was unofficial because it did not relate to any action items on the meeting agenda.

Attendees’ shouts overpowered efforts to call roll, read minutes, and review financial statements. After a few minutes of trying to begin the regular meeting, board retreated into executive session to discuss personnel issues while community members chanted: “Shame on you.”

“I need people on the board to call an actual meeting to address our actual questions. Can you or can you not call a special meeting?” asked community member Mitchell Thomas. The crowd waited in silence for the remainder of his allotted two-minute speaking time.

“You knew Mr. Raza was an issue here for us. I think you deliberately left this off the agenda,” Edna Karr teacher Sandradee Gray said. Gray’s comment appeared to echo a general frustration within the crowd.

Val Exnicios of the Algiers Neighborhood Presidents’ Council also had concerns.

“It is the opinion of all sixteen presidents that Mr. Raza exhibited the utmost lack of respect, extreme arrogance, and an uncompromising demeanor,” Exnicios said. “We could not, under any circumstances, work with Mr. Raza for the benefit of the ACSA [Algiers Charter School Association].”

Teachers and community members also spoke out against the rash of recent firings related to Raza’s effort to reform the schools.

“You say there’s a shortage of math and science teachers. There was no shortage until you fired all our current teachers. Tell me, are you filling these positions with certified teachers or Teach for America? I do not want my students to be guinea pigs for TFA [Teach for America],” Gray said.

Many spoke on behalf of O. Perry Walker Principal Mary Laurie, whose transfer to Algiers Technology Academy drew ire from the crowd.

Martin Berhman Charter Academy Principal Rene Lewis-Carter faced transfer to failing McDonogh 32.

After an hour-long executive session, the board reconvened and reversed its staffing decisions.

An announcement provided by the board said, “At the ACSA board meeting last night, the board decided to further consider parent concerns and will meet with management and leadership to discuss the reported personnel changes that were supposed to take effect June 29. To that end, NO principal and central office personnel changes will take effect today. The board will present its decisions at a special meeting Tuesday, July 3.”

Willie Zanders, a lawyer for the parents’ group opposing Raza’s reforms, announced an additional meeting July 5 at 5:30 p.m. in the Casimier Love Outreach Christian Center on Opelousas St. in Algiers.

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