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Lafayette Academy to stay with Recovery School District

At their Dec. 5 meeting, Choice Foundation board members voted to keep oversight of Lafayette Academy under the Recovery School District and not move to the Orleans Parish School Board.

“Orleans Parish never really made any sort of sales pitch,”  Board Chairman James Huber said after the meeting. “All they did was scare us. They’ll have to come a long way to convince people to go (to them).”

Earlier this year, OPSB announced that 17 charter schools meet eligibility requirements to switch from the RSD. To be eligible, a school must have been in the RSD for at least four years, and have a 2012 school performance score of 80 or above and a 2013 score of 54 or above.

Choice Foundation runs three schools, Lafayette Academy Charter School , Esperanza Charter School and McDonogh 42 Charter School. Lafayette Academy was the only school that was eligible for the move.

Board members also heard about increased security at the McDonogh 42 campus after ongoing behavior issues with Crescent Leadership Academy, an RSD-run alternative school for expelled students, that shares the same school property in eastern New Orleans.

“Their principal (of Crescent Leadership Academy) came over to see (our principal of McDonogh 42) three weeks ago, and said it’s not a matter of ‘if,’ it’s a matter of ‘when’ we’ll have a shootout on the campus,” said Mickey Landry, Executive Director of Choice Foundation. “They’ve been finding guns on the campus in the wheel wells of the school buses by (our) dumpster; that concerned us a great deal.”

Landry added that a riot occurred during the week of Thanksgiving that resulted in Crescent City Academy students climbing on school buses and punching walls.

“They were in the yard yelling and screaming and chanting – ultimately, we found out it was a protest by those students because they wouldn’t have the whole week off for Thanksgiving,” Landry said. “It’s a volatile population.”

Steps school leaders have taken in response include hiring a New Orleans Police Department detail officer from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. every school day, installing security cameras and paying to install a fence between Crescent Leadership Academy and McDonogh 42.

School leader Annafaye Caminita added that teachers are being trained on how to do lockdown procedures in case of an incident on campus.

“I’m telling teachers that I’m not afraid to be here,” she said. “I’m not afraid; you shouldn’t be afraid.”

In student achievement, board members were told that seventh grade students in all three schools are lagging behind in their most recent test scores. Figures show seventh grade scores rank the lowest of all grades and are well below the national median scores among other seventh graders. A bright spot is reading scores of kindergarten students at all three schools.

Ways to improve overall scores are intense pull-outs, academic interventionists and even explaining to the students how important it is to their future to have high achievement scores.

Nancia Sterling, seventh and eighth grade head at Lafayette Academy, said she has been meeting one-on-one with the older students to show them where they are compared to national scores.

“I tell them that when they go on to high school, the high schools look at their seventh-grade scores. Now their perspective is a little different than it was before,” Sterling said.

Board members were told that 46 percent of the students at McDonogh 42 are new students, and many of them are farther behind than current students. There were also seven teachers who left McDonogh 42 this school year.

Board members were also updated by Landry on issues concerning the Common Core curriculum, which will involve more rigorous testing.

Landry said after pressure from the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, state education Superintendent John White has asked the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to phase in Common Core over 10 years rather than immediately.

Landry said there’s also a request to provide better guidance to teachers across the state on how to teach the new Common Core material.

“There are still real problems of implementation of Common Core,” Landry said. “PARCC, who made the test, still hasn’t released details about the test. We know what a few of the test items look like, but we still don’t know what the tests are going to look like (overall), and it’s not enough to go on to teach our teachers how to create our own tests to prepare the kids.”

In other business, board members also voted to sue architecture firm Sizeler Thompson Brown to recoup $150,000 the board owes in a rental lease to Grace Episcopal Church on Canal Street. The building was planned to house the Choice Foundation headquarters, but the cost of the work was more than the board could afford.

The board is responsible for $150,000 by breaking its lease and is now suing the firm to get that money, according to Huber. The board is suing because it says the firm underestimated the extent of the repairs needed on the building.

“We are walking away from the building, suing the architecture firm, and looking for a new home,” board vice president James Swanson said.

The next board meeting will be held Jan. 29, 2014 at 4 p.m. at Esperanza Charter School, 4407 S Carrollton Ave. in New Orleans.

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