Gentilly Terrace and Algiers Technology Academy have a few things in common. They’re both D-rated public schools in New Orleans. Their school boards, overseen by the Recovery School District, decided to shutter them at the end of the school year.
A key difference: Algiers Tech students will have first choice in picking their new school. Students at Gentilly Terrace, however, will be assigned to Pierre A. Capdau Charter School, which has a C rating.
And if Gentilly Terrace students don’t want to go to Capdau? They must enter the citywide lottery without any special consideration, vying against everyone else for the best schools in the city.
The reason: When the New Beginnings charter board voted to close Gentilly Terrace, it said it would try to place students at Capdau, another New Beginnings school. Recovery School District officials, who run the enrollment system called OneApp, have agreed to treat the closure as a merger of the two schools.
“They will be enrolled at Capdau automatically, unless they apply to (and are assigned) to a school they prefer to that,” Gaby Fighetti, who oversees OneApp, said in an email.
Karran Harper Royal, a parent advocate and frequent critic of the Recovery School District, said it’s not fair to treat children at Gentilly Terrace and Algiers Tech differently.
“You think they’d have some kind of consistency,” she said. “If, through no fault of your own, your choice of a school is being taken away from you, you should have closing-school priority.” That’s the preference Algiers Tech students will receive.
The decision to reserve seats at Capdau for Gentilly Terrace students affects other children, too. Next school year, Capdau will move into a new facility at the Avery C. Alexander building in Gentilly. New buildings can attract new students. But because so many seats will be held for students coming from Gentilly Terrace, fewer could be available for others.
Tammy Lewis picked Gentilly Terrace for her son. He loved his kindergarten teacher, so she kept him there for first grade. Now that the school is closing, she will try to get a voucher to send him to a private school.
“I think that’s awful that they would close the school and not give those kids first priority to any school that’s here in New Orleans, if that’s how they usually do it,” Lewis said.
New Beginnings CEO Michelle Blouin-Williams told parents that students would be better served in a state-of-the-art building. And, she told the board, moving Gentilly Terrace students to Capdau would help fill the school.
Capdau’s new building will be larger than its current one, and having more students will help pay the bills. (Schools are funded based on how many students attend.)
According to New Beginnings board president Leslie Bouie, the Orleans Parish School Board told New Beginnings to make sure Capdau was full. “We considered a lot of things,” she said. “What would it take to fill the school?”
So the board voted to give up its Gentilly Terrace charter and do everything it could to give those students a spot at Capdau’s new building.
She said Recovery School District officials verbally approved their plan to move those students to Capdau.
Combining the students provides “efficiencies for the organization,” said Recovery School District Superintendent Patrick Dobard, “and we support that.”
Fighetti said Gentilly Terrace is being handled the same way as other mergers, such as when Carver Preparatory Academy closed and moved its students to Carver Collegiate Academy.
Blouin-Williams said the state board will vote in December to accept New Beginning’s decision to dissolve Gentilly Terrace. The board took a similar vote regarding Carver Prep and Carver Collegiate.
Royal said some families at Gentilly Terrace may prefer going to another school of the same size.
“They absolutely should get closing school priority, for what good that does,” she said. “At least it gives parents a choice.”
Gentilly Terrace parents are free to rank other schools on OneApp. But if they do that and are matched with a school, they can’t decide later to attend Capdau. According to the OneApp rules, you can’t change your mind after the OneApp software matches you to a school.