The Ben Mays Preparatory Board of Directors is seeking pro-bono legal advice in its fight to keep the neighborhood school open beyond the end of the school year.

The Recovery School District will recommend not renewing the school’s charter due to consistently low school performance scores, board members said during the Nov. 27 monthly board of directors meeting. Though the school’s 2012 performance score edged up two points over last year to 53.3, new benchmarks from the state label any school scoring below 75 as an F school and academically unacceptable.

“This year appears to be the year they set an example,” said board member Torrance Green.  “I think we’re a good case for unique judgment, but they’re doing a blanket judgment.”

Mays Prep Principal Shanda Gentry detailed for the board an overview of the academic action plan under way at the school, measures that include new hiring practices for teachers, comparing student skill levels to students at other schools, creating a new leadership team for the school administration and starting a parent involvement committee for engaging parents.

“Up until now we’ve had a lot of growing pains,” Gentry said.

Gentry and board members also voiced their concerns over the quality of other charter schools in the area, maintaining that the closure of Mays Prep or the takeover of the school by another charter operator will “not give students a better opportunity anywhere else.”

“They’re not doing any better than we are,” Green said.

Gentry said there are only two other charter schools located near Mays Prep. They, too, are up for renewal at the end of this year, and both neighboring schools only serve kindergarten through fifth grade.

“Where are our sixth graders going to go?” she said. “We serve this community. We drop kids off around the corner. Parents don’t have cars. They catch the bus to come here.”

“The constant turnover isn’t necessarily giving kids better seats,” Gentry continued. “Our third and fourth graders have already been through a turnover. Now when they get to fifth and sixth grade you’re going to turn them over again. We’ve put a lot of work into creating a culture where kids want to sit and listen and learn and then you come in and turn it over again. That’s inconsistency.”

The final decision on Mays Prep will be made by the state Board of Education when it meets in Baton Rouge Dec. 5. Meanwhile, board members are examining the charter contract and seeking outside legal counsel to see if any language in the contract prohibits RSD from canceling the school’s charter.

Gentry said she has also called on roughly a dozen parents and asked that they travel by bus with Gentry and other Mays Prep stakeholders to testify on behalf of the school.

Board members present for the November monthly meeting were Green, Sidney Barthelemy, Todd James, Raashand Hamilton, Damon Burns, James L. Moffett III. Absent were board members Jolon Mitchell, John Williams and Bonita Robertson.

Heather Miller

Heather Miller is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to The Lens' Charter School Reporting Corps. She is a former staff writer for The Independent in Lafayette, and is now based in New Orleans.