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Historic switch today to School Board highlights changes in New Orleans schools

It’s a historic day for the Orleans Parish School Board as the first charter school returns to the locally elected board from the state-run recovery district, which seized control of more than 100 city schools nearly 10 years ago.

Today’s change likely will go unnoticed by most students, teachers and parents of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School, but it’s a move that’s being heralded as a milestone by the superintendent, board and proponents of shrinking the state’s presence in the city’s schools.

The School Board today also gains oversight of three other charters: two new campuses, and one that was in jeopardy of being shut down, which now joins an existing charter network under the board’s supervision. These moves and the dissolution of two other schools reduces the Recovery School District’s lineup of charters in New Orleans by four.

King’s voluntary move sets it apart, and local officials hope it’s a symbol for the city that lost control of the vast majority of its schools just months after the facilities were devastated by Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing floods.

“To have our first school return back home is great for our city,” Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said Monday.

The K-12 school in the Lower 9th Ward has earned a B in the state’s report card accountability system.

In an education framework that touts choice, King’s leadership chose a different oversight agency.

Each of the 76 charter schools in New Orleans is run by a charter board. These boards enjoy sweeping freedom to set policy and curriculum for the schools, but they still must be overseen by an authorizing agency. As of today, the Orleans Parish School board supervises 18 charters. The Recovery School District oversees 53, and five others are overseen directly by the state school board.

A change in mission

The Recovery School District initially was set up to temporarily take over failing schools, bring their scores up, and return them to their home districts.  A 2010 state policy change eliminated the automatic-return process and gave the charter boards the option to return or stay.

This year, 36 RSD charters maintained passing scores high enough to be eligible to return to School Board oversight.

As charter school boards across the city publicly discussed and voted on the decision this winter, leading up to a Jan. 5 deadline, many cited the lack of a permanent superintendent in their decision to stay with the RSD.

Friends of King school board, which oversees King charter initially cited similar concerns, but eventually decided to transfer King anyway. The group also oversees Joseph A. Craig Charter School, which will remain in the recovery district.

The School Board may have eased some trepidation when they hired Lewis in March. The new superintendent has been very public with his intentions to cater to charter schools and to convert traditional schools into a “portfolio district,” giving campus leaders charter-like control and shrinking the central office.

The RSD and School Board have several cooperative endeavor agreements and their enrollment and disciplinary systems are intertwined, though both are run by the RSD. Lewis wants that to change.

“We are working together, but long term, those functions have to return back to OPSB,” he said.

Lewis said his changes to the central office are designed to better accommodate the School Board’s growing roll of charters.

Board gains three other schools

In the Broadmoor neighborhood, Andrew H. Wilson Charter School is also transitioning back to local control. But it wasn’t exactly the charter school board’s choice.

The F-rated RSD school was not granted a charter extension due to its poor academic performance. Instead, its leaders agreed to be taken over by a new operator. Several nonprofits applied to run the school, and the RSD selected the School Board-authorized InspireNOLA network.

The district currently oversees 14 charter schools, Wilson and King will make 16 and two new schools set to open this fall, Cypress Academy and Foundation Prep, will make 18.

July 1 is an important date for schools and faculty across the city because many schools’ yearly contracts begin today, others ended Tuesday and many employment contracts run on the same timetable.

Yesterday also marked the end of two RSD charter schools.

Tuesday was the last day of Lagniappe Academies’ charter agreement with the state. The school rode out the final four months of its charter after the state board voted not to give it another amid special-education concerns. Miller McCoy Academy, a business- and math-focused junior high and high school also closed. The F-rated charter school’s board decided to turn in its charter after a warning from the RSD superintendent and amid concerns of an unsafe school environment that were brought before the state board in the fall.

One other school switched its day-to-day management but is staying within the Recovery School District. McDonogh City Park Academy, a D-rated elementary school, agreed to be  taken over by the ReNEW network starting today. Its board of directors believed their 449 students would have better access to opportunities in a bigger network of schools. ReNEW plans to add two sections of pre-kindergarten to the school.

Lewis said schools should be overseen by the governing body Orleans Parish residents have elected — the School Board.

“It’s good for us to have our first school back, but of course, I’m looking forward to it being the first of many schools to return back.”

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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.

  • nickelndime

    WE are still trying to figure out why the OPSB comtinues to open new charter schools – without buildings! Shouldn’t the board’s focus be on getting the schools that are up and running back to local control.
    There are two “new” OPSB-authorized charters set to open: Cypress will open in The Touro Synagogue. Foundation Prep will open in the Archdiocese-owned St. Brigid site which is leased by VIET-NO in eastern New Orleans.

    WE realize that Superintendent Lewis inherited the current situation of OPSB-aithorized charter schools, as he also inherited the return of Martin Luther King Charter. Mr. Lewis did not contribute to either of these situations, but he is going to have to prove something very quickly to New Orleanians – and it better be better than what’s going on now with the charter schools that the OPSB currently oversees.
    And, the four new key administrative positions that Mr. Lewis has created better be very very good at what they do.
    Instead of opening new charter schools, the OPSB needs to focus on what is already on its plate. It hasn’t been doing very well.
    07/01/2015 9:08 PM DST USA

  • nickelndime

    You do know why Tracie Washington, Esq. and the Friends of King Board returned to local OPSB control, right? Hell, Ira Thomas was the key board member who assured “them” that they would be taken care of, and BESE signed off on it. Off the chair and on the floor, ASP is laughing his ASP off. And yet, Armer Bright and Ira Thomas are the ones who were caught in the Federal net on the steps of a federal building. We might have a problem here… 07/02/2015 1:34 AM DST USA

  • nickelndime

    “Historic switch” or “Shell game”?Doesn’t matter – “charter water” under the bridge. What matters now is what happens next. WE are on overtime.

    OPSB NEW superintendent hires 3 of 4 – “Stan the Man” stays as CFO, but that’s understandable. Why switch that horse midstream when that horse has some “institutional knowledge” on how to cross the stream and/or swim, if necessary..

    Deputy Superintendent, Kathleen Padian, is out (should have been outed years ago, but the board majority didn’t like the messenger – Ira Thomas). WE always believed that Padian was on the State RSD payroll anyway.

    Two former Jefferson Parish administrators have joined the OPSB “team.” What will they bring to the table? They better bring the “whole gaddam meal” and utensils too, Bcuz Orleans Parish is starving to death. A lot of people are paying for their groceries, rent/house notes, and medical – and they ain’t got those EBT “Louisiana Purchased” cards and their chillen’ ain’t on formula.
    07/03/2015 12:52 AM DST USA

  • nickelndime

    A historical perspective requires more than a decade – and correct us if “nickelndime and his ASP” are wrong, but isn’t this/that what got New Orleans into the situation She finds herself in now (rhetorical).
    07/05/2015 12:41 AM DST USA

  • nickelndime

    What has the new superintendent “gotten into”? DON’T ANSWER THAT. 07/05/2015 9:02 PM DST USA

  • nickelndime

    Talking about “saturated environments,” would somebody please tell the OPSB to stop opening up more charter schools?!
    07/10/2015 3:12 AM DST USA

  • Lee Barrios

    Lewis said schools should be overseen by the governing body Orleans Parish residents have elected — the School Board.

    One could see this faux democratic governance structure coming some time ago. An elected school board but “autonomous” charters (portfolio). Don’t be misled taxpayers.

  • nickelndime

    The New Orleans electorate must like to be misled. Look at what it keeps doing. Taxpayers do not equal voters. Get those white vans up and running. Pack ’em in.
    Oh damn it – ASP is off the chair – again.

    There is way too much political inbreeding going on in this sorry state. How do you clean that up! Roemers, Petersons, Carters, Whites and Dobards, Jacobs and Rosenthals…
    How do they manage to keep tabs on each other and their in-laws when the lights go out!?
    08/12/2015 12:29 AM DST USA

  • nickelndime

    Here is an example of what the New Orleans electorate has done: Seth Bloom, Woody Koppel, Sarah Usdin, Nolan Marshall, II, Cynthia Cade (okay, not much choice in that part of the city), Leslie Ellison (yes, might be considered an improvement over Lourdes Moran). This list excludes the last appointment by the OPSB. A Jindal appointment wouldn’t have made any difference. Look at Jindal’s appointments. They are no better than what is getting elected statewide.
    08/12/2015 1:38 AM DST USA

  • nickelndime

    Speaking of the political inbreeding that continues to go on in Louisiana – WE think they all “sleep with one eye open.” Have to – they can’t trust each other. This makes them highly vulnerable.
    08/12/2015 1:44 AM DST USA

  • nickelndime

    How would you like for Seth Bloom, Esq. to be your defense attorney in criminal court – in-between tennis games? Could you really look him in the eye and expect that he actually “sees” you!? Well, there have been stranger things that have happened in New Orleans.
    08/12/2015 1:53 AM DST USA

  • nickelndime

    1.22317 hours ago. Yes, the Equalizer watch is on. YOU GOT THIS, BOYZ.
    08/12/2015 2:01 AM DST USA

  • nickelndime

    What happened, Thommy Robichaux, Esq. (formerly with the OPSB)? They had “YES-YES” in their eyes, but then “the backers” said NO WAY! Geeze – look who got elected! What happened? Well, from what WE can see, the deal “went SOUTH,” and that my friend, is not a good place to be in this city – right now.
    08/12/2015 3:56 AM DST USA