Local politicians and pastors joined school officials and other stakeholders on Jan. 16 to break ground on a new Lake Forest Elementary Charter School. Mayor Mitch Landrieu and City Council members James Gray, Stacy Head, and Cynthia Willard-Lewis spoke at the event, along with area pastors and school representatives.

The event took place at the construction site: 11110 Lake Forest Blvd. Completion is scheduled in about 18 months at a cost of $34 million drawn from $1.8 billion in federal funding for post-Katrina recovery.

Orleans Parish School Board president Ira Thomas jokingly described principal and CEO Mardele Early as someone who “summons” people into her office to make persistent demands on the school’s behalf.

Lake Forest Elementary had initially been assigned a different site, Thomas said, but Early rejected it. She then came up with the idea of trying to buy vacant land from Great St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church, returning the school to the community for which it is named.

“Pastor Martin is being somewhat disingenuous is describing Mrs. Early as a warrior,” Thomas said. “She is ruthless.”

State Sen. J. P. Morrell picked up on Thomas’s them and jocular tone, calling Early a “brilliant military strategist.”

“When the time came to show up at an OPSB school board meeting, she unleashed the hounds of war upon me, in the form of the parents and staff of this great school,” Morrell said.

The affectionate pot-shots at Early made the occasion “almost a roast,” one staff member said.

Praise was also in the air. Other speakers noted that Lake Forest was named a National Blue Ribbon School this year, one of only five schools in the state so honored and the only one in New Orleans.

Focusing on the school’s priorities, Early said after the event that she was glad local leaders actually visited the site so they could see the school’s need for additional parking. For the event, attendees had to park along the boulevard. Early said the school will have to raise just under $1 million for the additional parking space it needs.

“I guess we’ll be selling a lot of cookie dough,” she said.