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Landry leery of OPSB governance; termites delay move to Canal Street offices

At their monthly board meeting, Oct. 3, directors of the Choice Foundation discussed pros and cons of accepting governance by the Orleans Parish School Board and whether to launch a charter school in Jefferson Parish.

Lafayette Academy, one of the foundation’s three charters, is in a group of about a dozen schools expected to be eligible to leave state management by the Recovery School District and become part of the Orleans Parish School Board’s portfolio next fall. The decision must be made and approved before the end of the current year. Most schools are expected to resist OPSB management.

Lafayette’s director, Mickey Landry, has raised several issues that leave him none too keen on the idea, above all the possible loss of administrative autonomy.  But governance changes are coming in any case, Landry told the board, noting that the Recovery School District plans to turn over all its direct-run schools to management by independent charter organizations like Choice.

The board confirmed that it had yet to decide whether to take over a campus in Jefferson Parish. Permission was granted earlier this year to start a Choice school on premises left vacant when the prior tenant was shut down due to failing test scores and low enrollment.

“The building is in a very good physical shape, so that’s a big plus if we take it over,” Landry said, “but the whole Jefferson school board is up for re-election next year and we do not know what decisions the new board will take and how it will affect us.” He recommended that Choice defer the decision for another year.

Board president James Huger echoed Landry, adding that  he was concerned that the foundation not stretch itself too thin. The board agreed to continue the discussion at future meetings.

In an update on facilities, Landry said a termite infestation has delayed construction at Choice’s new headquarters in the former Grace Episcopal Church on Canal Street. The building will also house Lafayette Academy’s pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students, who are now at McDonogh 42. The new move-in date is January.

In other business, school leaders briefed the board on two expulsions at Lafayette, teacher layoffs at McDonogh 42, and an update on the monthly parent night at Esperanza.

McDonogh 42 prinicipal Fran Trujillo said the layoffs reflected that the school’s enrollment is 50 students shy of its target of 500, a shortfall that is accompanied by a projected reduction in per-pupil state revenue allocations. She said that the Recovery School District’s One App admissions process, which has simplified student registration, was a cause of the enrollment gap.

In addition, Trujillo said the RSD’s decision to house all school records in its central office has encumbered the transition process at McDonogh 42. She said school officials spent three days at RSD’s offices making copies of every student record, slowing the registration process.

In her report, Esperanza principal Nicole Saulny said she was pleased by the positive school atmosphere and  encouraged by student progress as the school joins school nationwide in shifting to the Common Core curriculum.

Esperanza saw a good turnout last month for Math Night, Saulny said. The event allows parents to meet teachers and get tips on how to help students with their homework. Next month is Science night.

In his principal’s report, Landry said he received permission from RSD to expel two students who were disruptive and “continuously threatened several staff members with acts of violence.” One of the students reportedly brought a knife to school and threatened to blow up the campus.

In other school news, Lafayette has received a grant from New Schools for New Orleans to cover travel expenses to high-performing schools around the country that have made the transition to the Common Core curriculum.

The board’s development committee announced that it raised over $640,000 during the past school year, triple the amount from 2010-2011. A large part of the money was a $250,000 grant from the Walton Foundation, to help with start-up costs at McDonogh 42. The fundraising goal this year is $425,000.

Before going into a 15-minute closed executive session to review Landry’s performance, the board approved Dewana Hill as its newest member. Hill has a background in counseling and works with  community groups.

The next board meeting is at 4 p.m. on Oct. 24 in  Lafayette Academy’s cafeteria.

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