Akili Academy students next year will say goodbye to modular classrooms in Gentilly and hello to a renovated school building in the Upper 9th Ward.

Crescent City Schools, the board that oversees Akili, voted at its December meeting to move the school’s campus to the William J. Frantz building on North Galvez Street.

Once the doors open for the 2013-14 school year, it will mark the first time in Akili’s five-year history that students have attended classes in something other than modular classroom units.

The Recovery School District offered Akili the Frantz building, which is undergoing a renovation and expansion.

The 97,000-sq foot, three-story facility will come furnished, and it will have a gym, teacher workroom and art studio, among other amenities. It would house 580 students, a number that falls in line with the school’s long-term enrollment plan, said Chris Hines, the school’s chief operating officer.

Although the board approved the deal, it didn’t do so without reservations. Though it is just a 10 minute drive from Akili’s modulars on Pratt Drive, the 9th Ward location struck a sour note with parents Bernell and Stephanie Patterson.

“I’m originally from New Orleans, and when you say ‘9th Ward’ to somebody like me, it’s all over the place,” Bernell Patterson said. “We can control the inside of the school, but what happens on the outside of the school?”

The board should consider the area’s blight, he said.

Board members mulled this over, with Agnieszka McPeak wondering if the Akili move could coax families to return to abandoned houses. Julie MacFetters, Akili’s principal, noted that families had returned to houses in the Gentilly neighborhood since Akili began holding class.

CEO Kate Mehok said there are flaws in the school’s Gentilly campus, which is secured only by chain link fences around classrooms.

“Besides the dogs that like to come visit, we have been broken into several times,” she said.

Mehok said she has also had to hire someone at Akili to walk kids from class to class, due to the modulars’ open design. That wouldn’t be necessary at the Frantz building.

Before the vote, board president JP Hymel stressed that the board could pressure
city officials to improve the school’s neighborhood, if need be. In the end, Patterson
agreed that the move could be a positive one.

Board members also decided to keep Akili within RSD’s fold during the 2013-14 school year. The school was one of 13 eligible to switch to the Orleans Parish School Board’s governance next year due to improvements in student performance on standardized tests and attendance.

“At this point in time, without any written information or written idea about what would go into it, we decided not to go back” to the Orleans Parish School Board, John Hummel announced. Shortly after, board members unanimously passed a resolution to stay put.

The state-run RSD took control of most of the city’s failing schools shortly following Hurricane Katrina. The plan was to return those schools to the troubled local district, once schools’ performance improved. But so far, none of the schools that have met academic requirements have chosen to return. Akili and the other eligible 12 schools cite similar reasons for their refusal to go back. While most point out that a move to the board’s jurisdiction would mean the loss of their status as independent districts, they also feel that the school board has not put out enough
information about the return process.

Although at some schools the charter board’s desire to stay with RSD has gone against that of the parents and school’s community, Patterson, at least, was supportive of the board’s decision.

“Don’t feel bad about not going back to Orleans Parish School Board,” he said after the board’s vote. “I’m glad y’all turned that down.”

Here are other highlights from the meeting:

– The board discussed the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s approval of its application for Paul Habans Elementary School. Crescent City will operate the school, along with Akili and its other school, Harriet Tubman Charter School, next school year. Habans students, as well as students from nearby Murray Henderson Elementary School, will be
guaranteed spots at Habans next year.

– Board member Mary Lee Murphy, who served as chairwoman of the board’s development committee, resigned, due to a conflict of interest. Murphy recently took a job with Tulane University’s Cowen Institute, CEO Kate Mehok said. Cowen, a public education think tank, touts its objectivity in its many analyses of the education landscape, including the charter movement.

– The board also received a copy of the organization’s annual audit, in which there were no material weaknesses noted.

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...