City Park Academy delays move to year-round schooling, but brass rave about new CMO

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McDonogh City Park Academy’s decision to join the ReNEW Schools charter management group a year from now generated both enthusiasm and some backlash at the board’s May meeting.

Anika Watson, with two children currently enrolled at the academy, read a letter to the New Orleans Charter School Board, which governs City Park Academy, regretting that parents weren’t more involved in such a momentous decision, one that she is not confident will benefit the school.

She attributed the school’s success to the leadership team of Christine Mitchell and Shelia Hebert, principal and vice principal, respectively. Board president Jim Nelson thanked her for complimenting the leadership team and reminded her that no changes in administration will occur in the year ahead.

Discussion followed over whether to move in July to year-round schooling, a signature of the ReNEW program. Mitchell argued that it wouldn’t be fair to teachers and staff who had made summer plans before the ReNEW takeover was approved. Watson said parents should have been consulted and given prior notice.

Nelson thanked Watson for coming to the meeting and expressing her opinion, noting that she is the first parent to do so this year. The board agreed to delay the move to year-round schooling until next summer.

In sharp contrast to Watson’s doubts about ReNEW, dean of students Kevis Louis gave a delighted account of his experience at ReNEW’s Summer Leadership Retreat, May 7-11.

“To see what the future holds for us was exciting,” Louis said.

The retreat included talks and lessons about streamlining the evaluation process for teachers and a general review of student and teacher needs. ReNEW also exposed Louis to its administrative procedures.

“It was a great opportunity to see everything from the inside, they really rolled out the red carpet for me and showed me who they are and what they represent, but also how MCPA will be folded into that mix next year,” Louis said, referring to the academy by its initials.

Mitchell was equally upbeat, following a meeting she and Nelson attended with Gary Robichaux, ReNEW’s chief executive officer, and with Kevin Guitterrez, the group’s president and chief operating officer.

Mitchell said she was particularly impressed by ReNEW’s use of blended learning techniques. She said Robichaux has invited the entire City Park Academy staff to join the ReNEW staff for annual training sessions in July.

Keeyana Dupre, the academy’s director of finance and operations, said he will be meeting with ReNEW’s director of operations, Alexander Pearlman, “to see how we can align our systems so someone from ReNEW can come in and look at our books and easily understand them.”

Nelson said the board still needs to decide whether to hand the academy’s charter to ReNEW, with no strings attached, or relinquish it to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which issued it.

In other news, the school’s end-of-year test scores were a little lower than expected, Mitchell told the board.

Board member Mary Kay Parker said that was to be expected, given that the test was more aligned with the rigorous Common Core curriculum standards and involved material that had not been studied.

Nelson agreed to stay on as board president for the coming year.

Members present for the one-hour meeting were Emily Waterfield, Jim Nelson, Laura Charbonnet, Jason Hughes, Mary Kay Parker and Mike Plemer. Absentees were Mike Bagot, Lee Hampton, Monica Candal.

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