One-third of employees who staff the four New Beginnings School Foundation network schools will not return to work this fall, following a school year in which three of four principals resigned.

Of 183 school-based staff 61 will not be returning next year, said Kimberly Hulbert, New Beginnings’ director of human services. That number worried board members at their board meeting June 6.

Some employees were not offered contract renewals and others resigned. Either way, board members were unsettled by the attrition.

“I’m very concerned and I feel like we need more information,” said member April Bedford, adding that some teachers, a few of them her former students, had personally contacted her during the final weeks of the school year. Bedford works at the University of New Orleans.

“Is there a teacher shortage for the fall?” member Ramsey Green asked CEO Sametta Brown.

“No,” Brown replied.

Green said he understood the amount of turnover was not ideal, but if there was not a teacher shortage than it was not as worrisome of an issue.

Board members discussed the network’s human resource policies and questioned how staff contracts were distributed, especially when two of the four schools had interim principals at the end of the year.

Brown said even though the two principals resigned before the school year ended, they had completed staff evaluations prior to their departure.

In regards to process, Hulbert said staff were given contracts or non-renewal letters. Those who were rehired were asked to complete an exit interview, but Hulbert said that interview was optional.

When the meeting went into executive session to discuss Brown’s performance, several staff members waited in the halls during the almost two-hour closed door session.

Although some parents and teachers came to voice concerns about turnover and the way contracts were handled, no one spoke up the only time board chairman Tim Ryan asked for public comment, and that would be their only opportunity.

The Lens spoke with two teachers who said they might have stayed had they had the opportunity to make the decision earlier in the year. But they both felt they could not wait any later to secure jobs for the upcoming academic year.

When Hallie Hargett’s husband accepted a job outside of the city, the uncertainty surrounding Hargett’s teaching contract left her unsure whether she should plan on commuting or look for a job elsewhere. The first-grade Gentilly Terrace teacher said that after hearing nothing, she opted to take a job elsewhere.

“It makes it hard to commit,” said Elizabeth Brogan, who also taught at Gentilly Terrace. She said couldn’t rightfully ask her boyfriend to move to New Orleans not knowing if she had a job. She said she decided to move out of state.

Hargett said she was concerned for students at Gentilly Terrace because when they return in the fall, only about half of school staff will have familiar faces.

In fact, staff did not learn their fate until the last day of work.

“Contract renewals, non-renewals, and position eliminations were distributed on Friday, May 31 the last working day for 10 month employees’ contracts,” Hulbert wrote in an email to The Lens.

Of New Beginnings four schools — Medard Nelson, Pierre Capdau, Gentilly Terrace and Lake Area New Tech Early College High School — both Capdau and Gentilly Terrace had interim principals at the end of the year. And both schools lost nearly half their staffs.

  • Of 32 employees at Capdau, seven resigned and 11 not renewed.

  • Of 39 employees at Gentilly Terrace, 10 resigned and eight were terminated.

  • Of 42 employees at Nelson, two resigned and eight were not renewed.

  • Of 53 employees at the high school, three resigned and eight were terminated.

Despite turnover, test data varies

Even though both Capdau and Gentilly Terrace lost their principals in May, their test data indicate very different levels of academic proficiency in the two schools.

Data that Chief Academic Officer Juaquana Stewart presented to the board indicate Gentilly Terrace is one of the stronger network schools. Capdau paled in comparison.

“We’re going to hope the bonus points get us that ‘D’,” Stewart said of Capdau.

“We have a serious problem at Capdau,” said Ryan.

Capdau eighth graders produced dismal scores — only 37 percent of students scored basic or above, considered passing, in English. And that was the highest scoring subject.

In math, only 36 percent of Capdau eighth grade students passed, 27 percent in science and 36 percent in social studies. Fourth grade students at Capdau fared a little better, passing between 39 percent and 74 percent of students in those four subjects.

Over at Gentilly Terrace, between 57 and 78 percent of eighth grade students passed their subject courses. Fourth grade students at the elementary school scored well in math and English, with 87 percent passing in those subjects.

But in subjects where Gentilly Terrace accelerated last year, scores fell. In 2012, 81 percent of fourth grade students passed science. But in 2013 that number would drop to 49 percent. In social studies, 93 percent passed in 2012, but that number fell to 71 percent in 2013.

New Beginnings’ other elementary school, Medard Nelson, saw gains in seven of eight testing areas. Eighth grade student scores dropped 4 percent in science to 43 percent, according to network calculations. In eighth grade between 43 and 68 percent of students passed their subject tests. In fourth grade that fell between 49 percent in science to 92 percent in English.

Capdau’s passing rates for eighth grade students were about half that of Gentilly Terrace eighth graders.

Brown hired Edward Brown (no relation) as principal of Gentilly Terrace. He previously served as principal at Medard Nelson, but left the network.

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...