A group of New Orleans parents took the stage Thursday night to propel their voice into the local and national conversations about the city’s educational systems.
Parents bemoaned charter school CEOs’ decisions to use that executive title, often associated with Fortune 500 companies. They reported mixed results when using the city’s centralized enrollment system, OneApp. And several vehemently opposed the closure of struggling schools, suggesting districts offer support or new leadership instead.
“The only reason to close a school is if it’s going to fall down,” parent Kimya Bishop-Cole said.
The event at Dillard University, called Parent Perspectives, was sponsored by the Orleans Public Education Network, Black Alliance for Educational Options, Urban League of Greater New Orleans and STAND for Children Louisiana.
The roughly 140 attendees included parents, community members, a handful of charter leaders, Orleans Parish Superintendent Henderson Lewis and School Board member Nolan Marshall Jr.
This year, two charter schools overseen by the state-run Recovery School District were closed. One board surrendered its charter and another school was denied a charter renewal amid concerns regarding special education.
“Why wait until you feel like closing is the only option?” parent Roshand Miller asked.
That point particularly resonates with Lagniappe Academy’s closure. The school received a perfect 100 rating from the state on the special education portion of its 2013-14 school year evaluation. But a state report in the fall of 2014 cited shortcomings, and a comprehensive report issued earlier this year detailed numerous violations.* In March, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education denied the school a charter renewal.
Another RSD school, Andrew H. Wilson Charter School, was taken over by a new, RSD-selected operator after parents fought to keep the F-rated school from closing.
Parent Lamont Douglas, whose 6-year-old attends Wilson, said he felt like charter operators were angling for the school’s building more than the students in it.
“They’re treating our school system like a business and our children like commodities,” he said.
The use of “CEO” bears out that comparison, many said. The title is commonplace in New Orleans charter schools. Some charter network CEOs oversee multiple schools and site-level principals, and others are single-school sites with both a CEO and principal.
Parents reported mixed results when it came to using OneApp.
Isiss Donate’s son was placed at a school in New Orleans’ 9th Ward. She fought to have him moved to a school in Algiers, even though it was failing, because it was on the same side of the Mississippi as their home.
Bishop-Cole’s two children were placed in different schools. Her son will be entering kindergarten at A-rated Alice Harte Charter School, a placement she was pleased with. However, she thought when her son was placed at Harte that his older sister, who attends Paul Habans Charter School, would get to move to Harte with him. Not so.
“Hopefully next year, the system will work better and next year she can be in Harte as well,” she said.
Parents also discussed how they weighed school performance scores with other important factors, such as a school’s proximity to their home.
“Ideally, you want the school to be close to you and be an A school,” Miller said. “But ideal is not our situation here right now in New Orleans.”
Only eight schools out of the 85 public schools in the city earned an A for the 2013-14 school year.
“The only way to fix that problem is to fix the schools,” Miller said.
Along with the functionality of the OneApp, parents noted that not all city schools use the centralized process. A handful of School Board charters control their own admissions process, with deadlines in early January as opposed to OneApp’s late February deadline.
Some of the schools that don’t participate boast the highest grades in the city and have a selective-admissions process, accepting only students who meet certain criteria. But Miller didn’t see why that would stop them from using OneApp.
“Joining OneApp won’t change that,” she said. “They can still keep their standards.”
An instant audience poll showed half thought all schools should be mandated to join OneApp. Fifteen percent thought nothing about OneApp should change.
Principals of non-participating schools have said OneApp’s later timeline wouldn’t work for their schools.
The group also discussed school governance concerning authorizers, such as the School Board and state-run Recovery School District, and charter school boards.
When choosing Akili Academy for her two children, Miller said she did not consider the authorizer. Now that schools are starting to transfer to the auspices of the School Board, she said the return “shouldn’t stifle the improvements” made under RSD.
Parent Octavia Bolds, whose son is entering first grade this fall at his second RSD charter school, said she thought charter school boards could be more visible to parents. Even though posted announcements name the time and place of meetings, she said parents may not always understand the meetings are open to public.
“I think if parents were more informed maybe they’d go,” Bolds said.
Bishop-Cole said she would like to see schools return to School Board control. She likes the added level of a charter school board because that means there are more school officials who are invested in certain schools available to speak with parents.
An audience poll showed 64 percent wanted the School Board to control the schools. Twenty-two percent had no preference, 11 percent chose RSD, and 4 percent picked BESE.
*Correction: This story originally stated that the state reported problems with Lagniappe’s special education in 2013; it was 2014. (Aug. 3, 2015)