Leaders at ReNEW Schools announced Thursday that they would be fighting the state’s accountability system after learning that two of the charter organization’s alternative high schools made the “academically unacceptable” list.

ReNEW’s Chief Executive Officer Gary Robichaux said he was disappointed after getting the Louisiana Department of Education’s list of schools that were deemed to be failing. The schools on that list received a performance evaluation of 75 points or below out of 200 total.

“The bad news is that there are nine schools on the list, five of which deserve to be on it, in my opinion, and four of which are alternative schools – including two of ours,” Robichaux said about the list that included ReNEW Schools.

ReNEW Schools is in the state’s Recovery School District. According to a report in The Advocate, a total of 180 schools in the state were deemed academically unacceptable, up 13 percent statewide from the 135 schools that got the low score last year.

Officials say the figures are due to more rigorous standards.

The rigor is supposed to encourage schools to have higher standards, but Robichaux said the rules should be a little bit more lenient for non-traditional schools like the two overseen by ReNEW.

By definition, an alternative school is one that offers a more flexible program of study than other elementary or high schools – often because the students going to those schools have a special set of circumstances or needs that prevent them from attending “normal schools.”

ReNEW’s Accelerated High School City Park and ReNEW’s Accelerated High School West Bank fit that definition, with a program that takes kids all year long and provides education to students who are over-age and under-credited.

Robichaux said he would come up with a clear report looking at the data and “why the accountability system doesn’t work” for schools like those.

“They made lots of bad choices and are trying to get it right, so we’re trying to accommodate their needs,” Robichaux said about some of the student population in alternative schools.

At the meeting, President and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Guitterez agreed that lumping the alternative schools into the same category as the city’s other schools was unfair.

“They’re holding us responsible for the same framework,” Guitterez said. “We’re working in a much different environment.”

Board members said they were eager to get Robichaux’s report and a copy of the memo he plans to send to Louisiana Education Superintendent John White.

They also were  curious about what would happen if the state refused to put alternative schools in another category. When asked what the consequences were if nothing was changed, Robichaux responded that if the alternative schools continued to fail, ReNEW’s charter could be revoked.

But he doesn’t think that will happen, he added.

“I think a lot of the schools in the city will help fight with us,” Robichaux said. “I’m confident they will change [their policies].”

Robichaux added that the implementation of alternative schools, and different policies to go with them, was “a national trend,” giving Louisiana a direction to look towards.

Robichaux also told the board that, according to new scores released by the state, 65 percent of ReNEW’s staff was in the top third of the state for moving kids along academically.

“We hope this aligns well with the state’s new bonus system,” Robichaux said. “Maybe we can get paid not just for getting older but for moving kids.”

The Lens reported in March that teachers at ReNEW School recently were eligible for up to $2,500 in bonuses. Assistant principals could get $5,000 and principals up to $10,000.

The network participated in the Teacher Incentive Fund, which uses a complex formula for the bonuses.

Aside from Guitterrez and Robichaux, board members Brian Weimer, Sharon Courtney, Marten Feibelman, Donald Herry, Liza Sherman, Randy Roig, Jim Dukes, Siona LaFrance, Kathy Cichlin and Mary Brown were in attendance.

The meeting lasted from approximately 5:40 until about 7 p.m.

Della Hasselle

Della Hasselle, a freelance journalist and producer, reports environmental and criminal justice stories for The Lens. A graduate of Benjamin Franklin High School and the New Orleans Center for Creative...