Orleans Parish schools superintendent to give direct-run schools more autonomy

Change in the New Orleans education landscape is nothing new, but a recently announced central-office reorganization of the Orleans Parish School Board that could cut two dozen jobs is noteworthy for the direction it takes the deeply rooted bureaucracy.

Contrary to popular rhetoric, New Orleans is not an all-charter school district. But it’s close. And the plan as described would take it even closer, with distinctions that could be more semantic than operational.

In the decade since Hurricane Katrina, the traditional central office shrank as its responsibilities were reduced when the state-run Recovery School District took over most schools, making New Orleans known as the center of a national experiment by slowly chartering each of the schools it ran. But, the central office continues to employ more than 100 people, with a complicated organizational chart that was designed to manage the more than 120 schools in the city before the storm.

The School Board continues to directly run five schools, while also providing general oversight to some charters. The bigger player in the city, with oversight of about 70 percent of its public schools, is the RSD that now made up entirely of charter schools.

This story was produced in partnership with The Hechinger Report, to focus on coverage of New Orleans public schools.

This story was produced in partnership with The Hechinger Report, to focus on coverage of New Orleans public schools.

Now newly appointed Orleans Parish Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. plans to cut staff and move money — and some responsibility — to the five traditional schools. Critics say the result would essentially make every school in the city a charter.

The changes are reflected in language Lewis now chooses, which is similar to those following the charter school movement. Lewis refers to those five campuses as “network schools,” rather than “direct-run schools,” which had been the phrase for the past 10 years. Charter groups use terms such as “charter management organization” and “charter network.”

The head of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, Caroline Roemer Shirley, said she is pleased with Lewis’ hard look at the central office.

“We’re encouraged to see that he is thinking about those things and how to move a very traditional central office to something that is much more reflective of what is needed,” she said.

“How can they better position themselves to be supporters of these schools rather than day-to-day operators of the schools?”

Shirley note that the majority of Orleans Parish schools are charters, and the district needs to now focus on holding those charter operators accountable, as well as other bigger-picture items.

Lewis’s plan, which the full School Board will formally consider Tuesday, will cut 20 to 25 positions of the 103 at the central office. Four new senior-level positions will be created. Central-office employees were notified of the pending reorganization through a form letter sent out June 4.

It’s not clear whether Lewis will seek to charter the remaining schools, but since taking office in March, he talked about moving responsibilities and accountability to the schools, away from the system’s main office.

Shirley agrees with that strategy.

Henderson Lewis

Henderson Lewis

“Many of these schools do their own hiring, their own back-office work,” she said. “They do all the things that traditionally needed to be taken care of by the district.”

The district framework is still needed for overarching matters, Shirley said, such as enrollment projections, facility management, special education and tax collection.

When the RSD took over most of the city’s schools right after Katrina, the School Board was left with 21 high-performing schools. Many became charters quickly under the traditional board, long before the RSD chartered all of the schools it ran. The RSD completed the conversion last summer.

Lewis’s decentralization strategy was no secret, made known publicly in his 180-day plan submitted during his application process. Some changes will be made as soon as today.

His proposal anticipates the School Board’s management of more charters. That’s because RSD charter schools can move back to School Board oversight if they improve academics above the level considered failing and maintain a state-specified school performance score for two years.

Despite more than 30 schools being eligible to make that move this year. Only one did — the first in the RSD’s 12-year history. Critics of the School Board said it isn’t ready for a big influx of established charters.

Lewis’s plans appear to counter that notion.

“The purpose of the reorganization is to build a school system that is centered on school autonomy, and building a culture of support, transparency, and equity in the central office,” a statement from his office said.

“Our goal is to build a modern day school system and central office that is prepared to meet the needs of all public school students in our post-Katrina education landscape,” Lewis said.

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About Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned to New Orleans in the fall of 2014 after covering education for the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with majors in journalism and social welfare and a concentration in educational policy studies.

  • Pax Bobrow
  • Lee Barrios

    Quite apropos Pax Brobow. Had me going for a few paragraphs because good sense seems to be replaced by satire. Classic literature studies have dwindled for years in our public schools giving way to the more “entertaining” easily understood without thinking (questioning) contemporary fluff that the public is being led to believe is a necessary forward movement into the 21st century – oh and did I say that standardized mass testing is better suited to “informational text” for close readings with the only acceptable answer to the question being one “imbedded” in the text? (Thanks Common Core) My students asked why I never issued scantron compatible multiple choice tests. I asked them why would I give a test that provided all the answers? Is anybody listening???

    Dr. Henderson’s actions fall short of satire but are deeply contradictory – cutting 20-25 worker bees (implying $avings) while adding four senior level positions ($$$$) – seems just a different configuration of top-heavy to me. What does it replace the bureaucracy with?

    The writing has been on the wall for several years now at OPSS. The new governance model is designed to give the appearance of an elected body democratically controlled by the people with the reality that autonomous charters have removed that “ownership” by the PUBLIC who fund them. Will parents be further duped into believing that more CHOICE (will be able to list their top 12 desired schools rather than their current top 8) while removing the one they most prefer – quality neighborhood schools – is mo bettta?

    And Caroline Roemer is delighted at the thought of Dr. Henderson being transformed from an operator to a supporter. She has certainly made a good living wage in that capacity. It also evidently removes them from the same kind of accountability that schools and teachers have. What a deal.

  • Elizabeth K. Jeffers

    According to OPSB’s power point on its new Charter Bulletin “The Orleans Parish School Board is being asked to consider the final portions of a comprehensive overhaul of the district’s charter school policies, as a component of the overall Policy Manual Revision Project.” Read here for more information:

  • nickelndime

    “Four new senior-level positions will be created.” I don’t want to nit-pick, but does the bald knight have to create new positions so he/the district can advertize and replace current administrators? In this way, would the current administrators then be declared “redundant”? Well, guess what! They already were. Dennis is gone – after 42 years! Now, if yo’ boy (and by that, I mean the superintendent) starts talking about redundancy and Padian and Smith, then “nickelndime” and ASP will pay attention and my ASP will get out of the courtyard fountain.

    Having said that, Lewis has definitely bought into portfolio management and RSD philosophy. Lewis was employed by the RSD. 4gawdsake, he was the CEO of a failed/failing RSD school for years before he went to East Feliciana Parish (very low performing).

    You can take the boy out of the RSD, but you cannot take the RSD out of the boy. Philosophically, Lewis is in tune with the state and the RSD. Caroline Roemer Shirley is like a fly. If you see one, there are others and something is afoul.

    I hope the bald knight has some things in mind that will shock everybody – in his own way. Let’s put it this way: COULD IT GET ANY WORSE?
    06/15/2015 4:25 PM DST USA

  • HalfFullClass

    It can and will get worse.

    To bear witness, just be in that number attending the upcoming Ed Research Alliance circle jerk featuring:
    Henderson Lewis, Ben Kleban, Andy Kopplin, John White, Kira OrangeJones, KEN DUCOTE, Gabriela Fighetti, Neerav Kinsgland, Kathleen Padian, Michael Stone, Randi Weingarten, ….

    They are offering educators discounts.
    Just “reach out” to:

    For questions on the convening and agenda:Alica Gerry
    Research Analyst
    Education Research Alliance for New Orleans
    Tulane University
    (504) 274-3617

  • nickelndime

    This is what WE are wondering: Will the “renewed” charter operating agreements, that were executed since January 2012 (operating agreements are on OPSB website), be amended to put the “old” charters, a/k/a “the OneApp Holdouts,” into the OneApp process for the following school year (after 2015-2016)? Looks like the upcoming school year is a done deal.

    If so (amending operating agreements before renewal time), ASP and I would like to reserve a front seat (my ASP sits with me) and order popcorn because we want to see Lee Reid, Esq. of Adams and Reese, LLP and Brian Riedlinger’s Eastbank Charter Collaborative sue the OPSB (as Lee Reid said they would do).

    ASP and I get impatient, and quite frankly, we don’t want to wait until 2021+ to see if the superintendent was able to persuade this particular group of charter schools to “cooperate.”

    06/15/2015 8:42 PM DST USA

  • nickelndime

    Loud snorkeling noises coming from the courtyard fountain. What about Vera Triplett? LMAspO! What a list!!!! I mean, seriously, Scott Cowen, Leslie Jacobs, Josh Densen, former NSNO CEO Matt Candler, former NSNO CEO N. Kingsland…insects trilling…$275 tickets 06/15/2015 8:51 PM DST USA

  • nickelndime

    The “direct-run” schools of the New Orleans Public School District don’t need more autonomy, Henderson. What good is professional autonomy without multi-million-dollar financial autonomy – which is what the idiot OPSB has given to the charter boards, lacking in oversight AND which Padian’s Office was supposed to be monitoring,

    Charlotte Mathews (there’s a throwback to the ’70s for you) – principal of “Baby Ben,” whosever “baby” that is – has been in DROP for years and years – that’s like being in De Nile, but continuing on the public payroll like Rosalynne Dennis.

    Then there is John Hiser (another one who retired, resurrected, and came back to work the next day). Algerian to the core is Lourdes Moran (former OPSB member – the one who was too wiley to be caught) sitting on yet another nonprofit board that recently was approved (chartered) to open a new (yet another) OPSB-authorized charter school. You can hear Lourdes speak at the charter conference at Tulane this week (why ? I don’t know)

    COULD IT GET ANY WORSE! Well yes, apparently it can. WE suggest that you all hop (do the bunny hop) on over to the conference at Tulane this week. You can see for yourself. WE believe that you can deduct the fees on your 2015 Tax return in as much that you will not have received anything of value
    in exchange for the $275 that you
    06/16/2015 4:24 AM DST USA

  • HalfFullClass

    Great idea to deduct the fees from my taxes. I remember taxes, I remember income, I remember scrambling for deductions to reduce my tax obligations. Many question my judgement becoming a teacher but there is nothing wrong with my memory.
    Will be attending the event. If any of you are attending be sure to introduce yourself. Should be easy to spot with my cynical grin and an aluminum foil snap-back.
    06/16/2015 8:49 AM DST USA

  • nickelndime

    Ha! “HalfFullClass” –
    My ASP will need no introductions. I just need to make sure we don’t get separated. You have no idea what kind of havoc my ASP can cause unsupervised. 06/16/2015 6:19 PM DST USA