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Choice Foundation jilted in bid to take over former Dunbar Elementary campus

Choice Foundation officials say they were promised the Paul L. Dunbar Elementary School building in Hollygrove, but the Recovery School District has instead alloted it to another charter management group, the Knowledge is Power Program, also known as KIPP.

Choice Foundation chairman James Huger said the acquisition was recorded in a signed  memorandum of understanding, and Choice scheduled to open a school in the former Dunbar building in August 2015.

“They’re in a bit of a bind as to what to do,” Huger said, adding that the school would be an important asset to the Choice Foundation, which operates three schools in old buildings on a limited budget.

“If  you want us to compete, we have to compete on equal footing,” Huger added.

Recently, the Choice Foundation wrote John White, the state’s superintendent of education, to remind him that the RSD had promised the school to Choice, executive director Mickey Landry said.

The board also called BESE, asking officials to step in and help, but Landry said they have received no response as yet.

“It’s more than frustrating, it’s insulting,” Landry told board members.

Now, Landry is asking board members and Hollygrove community members to get involved, by writing John White, BESE members and legislative officials, asking that Choice Foundation acquire the school.

“We have to hold them accountable just as they hold us accountable for our performance,” Landry said. “It’s been just an infuriating situation.”

“Now is the time to get involved,” he urged.

The Dunbar school is assigned to KIPP believe, according to the New Orleans School Facilities Master Plan, available on the RSD website.

In other news, Landry announced that Choice Foundation was searching for his replacement as founding executive director.

In the job description, which was released in February, Choice Foundation officials underscore the progress that the charter organization has made with failing New Orleans schools.

Choice Foundation took over Lafayette Academy, following Hurricane Katrina. It was next asked by the Louisiana Department of Education to turn around Esperanza Charter School,  “a long-failing school that is unique in New Orleans for its student demographic mix: It has about 50 percent Hispanic and 50 percent African American students,” according to the posting.

Esperanza, like Lafayette, has achieved statewide “Top Gains” awards.

Two years ago, Choice Foundation added McDonogh 42 Charter School to its portfolio, after  the state refused to renew the former administration’s charter.

“It is important to note that all three Choice Foundation schools ranked at or near the very bottom of school performance in New Orleans when Choice took them over and that they were fully-enrolled, truly open-enrollment schools,” the job description reads. “That is to say, the Choice Foundation model is NOT a build-one-grade-at-a-time model, nor is it selective admissions or selective retention.  Our intent is to serve the poor of New Orleans and to have positive impact on the city by serving a whole school ‘as it sits.’”

The percentage of Choice students eligible for free and reduced lunch is 98.5 percent for the 2013-14 school year, and the diagnosed special-needs population is at about 13 percent, according to the posting.

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