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Live blog: As officials debate governance, John Mac community members seek Orleans Parish School Board oversight

As the doors of John McDonogh Senior High School closed last week, community members, neighbors and former students were left with the unanswered question: Who will run the school when it reopens?

A former school administrator is circulating a petition that calls for the return of the school to Orleans Parish School Board control. So far about 235 people have signed it.

In the meantime, a group of neighborhood activists is trying to influence how the school is run when it reopens after renovations in the 2016-17 school year.

They’ll hold a community meeting today at 5:30 p.m. at the Community Book Center, 2523 Bayou Rd.* The Lens will live-blog the meeting below.

“Neither the Recovery School District, the Orleans Parish School Board nor the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education seems to have a plan for the building or the school, at least not one they are sharing with concerned parents, students, alumni and community members,” said Ann Marie Coviello in an email announcing the meeting.

Renovations at John Mac were supposed to begin in 2016, but the Recovery School District announced in January that it would close the school next year to accelerate the project.

If all goes as planned, the construction project could be open for bid as soon as June of next year, said Recovery School District Superintendent Patrick Dobard at a recent state Board of Education and Secondary Education committee meeting.

Dobard indicated that the school will remain under the authority of the Recovery School District when it reopens. But he said he doesn’t know which charter operator would govern it — or whether it would exclusively house a high school. He’s said before that Future Is Now, the prior operator, would not be eligible to run it again.

“We still have to make a decision about what the school will look like,” Dobard said at the  the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s administration and finance meeting on June 17. He added that there are still too many high schools in New Orleans.

At the same meeting, John Mac community members pleaded with the board to remove the school from the Recovery School District’s oversight and hand it over to the Orleans Parish School Board.

“Give us an opportunity to have a say-so in John McDonogh,” said Frank Buckley,  a teacher and founder of a community group called C6 — Conscious Concerned Citizens Controlling Community Changes. “We ask that no other work be done — that you put a chain on the door — until we’re at the table.”

Buckley was behind a petition in April 2013 that sought to oust Future Is Now Schools. He has long complained that the community is not involved in decisions about the troubled school — an opinion he reiterated at the committee meeting.

Community members at other schools have tried to move to the OPSB when they were unhappy with RSD’s decisions, such as the merger of Landry and Walker high schools.

At that committee meeting, BESE member Carolyn Hill attempted to make a motion to allow John McDonogh to return to the OPSB. But committee chairman Jay Guillot said the matter would instead be addressed at a future BESE meeting.

The next day, at a full BESE board meeting, Hill asked that the board consider “the process for selecting the future governing authority for John McDonogh High School, including the Orleans Parish School Board.” It was added to the agenda for the August meeting of the board’s administration and finance committee.

Her request was met with resistance from other BESE board members.

“The fact that we’re already starting to determine what the school’s path is makes me exceptionally uncomfortable,” said BESE member Kira Orange Jones.

She said the Orleans Parish School Board still has no permanent superintendent.  “This is a district that’s still in a lot of instability currently and has a long way to go.”

Live blog, 5:30 p.m. Wednesday

*Correction: This story originally provided an incorrect address for Community Book Center. (July 2, 2014)

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About 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 Arts, Hasselle lived in New York for 10 years. While up north, she produced and anchored news segments, wrote feature stories and reported breaking news for, a hyperlocal news site. Before that, she worked at the New York Daily News. She obtained her master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She can be reached at (917) 304-6121.

  • nickelndime

    Kira Orange Jones has a lot of nerve criticizing the OPSB. Is she aware of what is happening at the state level – BESE hiring attorneys to sue the Governor of Louisiana, BESE turmoil, FUSE in Baton Rouge, etc., or does she not remember what state she is in – well, that’s understandable!)?

  • I like Ms. Bernard, but her contention that John Mac was anything but an abject failure back when it was under local control is simply false. John Mac was one of the lowest – if not the lowest – performing schools in the entire state. The building was in such a state of disrepair (and infestation) that had anyone checked, it surely would not have passed code. The dropout rate in SY 2004-05 was 19% and nearly 1/5 of students on average were absent on any given day. FINS’ management was a mistake, no question, but returning the school to local control is not going to magically return the school to some pre-Katrina “golden age” because such an age didn’t exist.

  • nickelndime

    The State/RSD would not allow the return of Sarah T. Reed to the OPSB saying it was not eligible. Is this group asking for something that can’t happen – or let’s say, what White/Dobard/powers that be – will not allow to happen? This is a sick game.

  • nickelndime

    The RSD hired and used former administrators to “buy in” at schools that it perceived as a necessary expenditure (as in, you’re hired and on the payroll). The RSD even used former administrators from the Central Office of the OPSB to buy community support for its hand picked favorite charter networks. John Mac is one example. Clark is another. The RSD has the John Mac facility on hold (but firmly in control) until public interest wanes and nobody remembers what happened. About two years should do it! If BESE remains in tact (uncertain), and John White is superintendent (doubtful), and Patrick Dobard is a State Education administrator (certain), then, I guess all of us who are outside the inner circle, will find out what the inside “circulars” already know.

  • nickelndime

    John White cannot sign checks over $2,000. That was quick! Ha! He’s pretty useless now.