When a Treme charter school shut down this summer, New Orleans College Prep CEO Ben Kleban had plans for its vacant portable classrooms buildings — build a new school from scratch.
He bought the modular buildings at auction, and three months later, Hoffman College Prep is set to open Wednesday with space for 60 4-year-old children in a Head Start program.
New Orleans College Prep is one of several charter-management organizations operating multiple schools in New Orleans. As CEO, Kleban oversees Crocker College Prep, Sylvanie Williams College Prep and Cohen College Prep.
The organization is partnering with Kingsley House, a 120-year-old community-services nonprofit, to open the center that Kleban aims to expand each year. Kingsley House already is a Head Start grantee.
“Longer term, we’re hoping it will grow into a rebuilt, revitalized Hoffman Elementary School,” Kleban said.
Hoffman Elementary was torn down in 2010, and the 2600 block of South Prieur Street remained a vacant lot until Kleban installed the modulars late this summer.
After Hurricane Katrina, residents were told it would be rebuilt, and district plans from 2008 reflect that. But later, the school’s name dropped out of the citywide master plan. Other schools, such as Johnson Lockett, met a similar fate.
Fifty of the 60 seats are already filled, school leaders said recently. The seats are generally reserved for students eligible for Head Start, though a portion can go also to families who would pay tuition for seats.
This year the city saw great demand for early childhood education through the centralized enrollment system, called OneApp. During the summer enrollment, nearly every program had a waiting list.
Recovery School District Assistant Superintendent Gabriela Fighetti said about 3,000 students sought pre-K enrollment for this school year. Of those, 1,800 were placed into programs that use OneApp and others have found programs elsewhere she said.
“There are about 400 unique students on our pre-K waitlist right now,” Fighetti said last week.
Kleban said his organization will be responsible for educational programming at the new site. The schools he now runs have state-issued letter grades of C for Cohen, D for Williams and T for Croker; a ‘T’ for “transition” is given to a school for the first two years after a new operator takes over it.
New Orleans College Prep already has preliminary authority through its charter through the Recovery School District to open a K-8 campus, though it would need to get final approval from authorities.
The RSD has opened new schools in New Orleans before, bringing an outcry from the Orleans Parish School Board, which considered suing the RSD because elected officials on the board believed the temporary district shouldn’t be allowed to open schools. The state attorney general, however, sided with the RSD.
According to a report in Uptown Messenger, community members were interested in working with Kleban’s group in 2011. A 2007 photo on Google Maps shows New Orleans College Prep signs staked in the lawn.
The site was controlled by the Recovery School District for the past 10 years, including the demolition of Hoffman. RSD Deputy Chief of Staff Laura Hawkins said it was returned to the Orleans Parish School Board on Aug. 1.
For enrollment information, call (504) 335-0444.