Members of the board that governs Crescent City Schools discussed Akili Academy’s possible switch to Orleans Parish School Board governance and a petition that could help guide that process at their Oct. 17 board meeting.

They also discussed the general progress of Akili and a pending application to charter Paul Habans Elementary.

Board members held the meeting at Akili, one of two schools the charter management organization runs. Their other school is Harriet Tubman Charter School.

About 55 of the city’s more than 70 charter schools are authorized by the Recovery School District, instead of the Orleans Parish School Board. A handful of other charters are authorized by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. According to state law, after an RSD charter performs well academicallyfor at least five years, the school’s independent governing board is able to decide whether to switch to the parish school board’s authorization. The RSD took over the mass of the city’s schools shortly following Hurricane Katrina, after the parish school board went bankrupt and had for years been mired by dismal academic performance.

In recent years, however, the OSPB’s financial and academic reputation has improved, and the board has tried to woo schools back into the fold.

Last year, Akili’s performance was high enough for the school to move – although school leaders chose to stay put – and this year, it’s expected to make the grade again. Tubman, which struggled academically for years under the Algiers Charter School Association before Crescent City took over the school last year, did not have the academic performance last year to switch, and it’s not expected to make the grade this year either.

Chief executive officer Kate Mehok explained the petition, penned by the Louisiana Charter School Association, to the board. (For more on the petition, click the link.)

“Let’s say we were to go back to OPSB,” Mehok said. “Whatever that looks like, and we’ve still not seen a clear thing on what that would look like, this would have to be included.”

Akili would have to make the decision to return by Dec. 1, and Mehok said that she didn’t think that the parish school board and the state would “have the time to get something together for us to respond to.” Thus, the petition was created to let the school board know what charters’ “non-negotiables” were.

Another point to consider, she said – if Akili does return to the parish school board, it would mean that Crescent City have to answer to two different authorizers, instead of one, since Tubman would remain with RSD.

Still, Mehok said that the document was a good “beginning.”

“I think it’s a good opportunity to say that Crescent City Schools thinks these things make great charter schools,” she said, referring to the principles in the petition.

In the end, board members agreed to endorse the petition unanimously.

Akili came up first during the meeting when Akili principal Julie MacFetters informed board members of the school’s progress. MacFetters presented Akili’s goals for the year and briefly reviewed the school’s mission. Scholars should leave Akili prepped to succeed at the city’s top high schools, she said.

“The Lushers, the Ben Franklins, the Newmans… I want them to be able to get into any school they want to get into,” she said.

MacFetters also discussed hiring practices and strategies to increase teacher retention. Although all but three of the close to 30 faculty members working at the school last year returned to Akili this year, most of the staff is younger, MacFetters said.

“We are thinking about what we can do, because a lot of our staff are younger, Teach for America, Teach NOLA…alums, just what we can do to keep them interested in staying in New Orleans,” she said. The school is going to host a home-buying seminar for faculty, she said.

After MacFetters’ presentation, board members discussed Crescent City’s charter application for Paul Habans Elementary, and the state education department interview that board members attended last month.

“I’d say that I thought that our new school leader did a fantastic job,” board president J.P. Hymel said, speaking of school principal fellow Litouri Smith. “I’m no expert in education, but I could see that he had a great deal of confidence.”

Smith, who would become principal of the school should Crescent City get the charter, also answered questions during the interview. He wasn’t present at the meeting. Hymel also said that he felt Crescent City was prepared as a board, and as an organization. “I’m not cocky, but I know we’ve done this before.”

Mehok said Crescent City would receive a preliminary recommendation from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, an organization that advises the state in its selection process, towards the end of the month. Crescent City would have a chance to respond. Two weeks after, the organization would give a final recommendation, and Crescent City could, again, respond. They find out if they’ve received the charter in December.

The next board meeting is November 21, at 6 p.m. at Tubman.

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...