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ReNEW votes to close McDonogh City Park Academy next spring

The board of ReNEW Schools voted Thursday to close ReNEW McDonogh City Park Academy at the end of the school year, after it received an F from the state this fall.

The most recent round of state ratings were brutal for the six-school charter network: All of its schools received D’s and F’s.

With the closure next spring of another underperforming school, ReNEW will operate three elementary schools and one alternative high school in New Orleans in the next academic year.

“The bottom line is, we haven’t reached academic success at ReNEW McDonogh City Park Academy, a school we took on in 2015,” ReNEW CEO Kevin Guitterrez wrote in a statement. “We believe that by relinquishing our charter at MCPA, we can assist families in selecting higher performing schools for their children.”

Guitterrez and Orleans Parish school district spokeswoman Dominique Ellis said students will have priority in choosing another school in the city’s centralized enrollment lottery.

That’s true if the Orleans Parish School Board doesn’t hand the building over to another charter group. If another school does open up there, students in the same grades would have a guaranteed seat and would not be given priority to choose another school.

ReNEW is the second charter group to give up on the elementary school on Esplanade Avenue. In 2015, a single-site charter turned it over to ReNEW, hoping a charter network could provide more resources and opportunities for students.

ReNEW took over in the 2015-16 school year. That year and the next, McDonogh got a D, though it would have been an F if the state had not curved its letter grades to accommodate a drop in standardized test scores due to higher standards.

This year, the school fell to an F.

Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run. They must meet academic and financial benchmarks annually to stay open. The grades from the state are a key factor in making those decisions.

The charter for McDonogh City Park Academy would be up for a one-year extension in December 2018; that’s standard for a school under its first charter. It would have been up for a full renewal the year after.

School closures and handovers are a fact of life in the charter model that has taken hold in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. But those decisions are usually made by the state or the local school board. It’s unusual for a charter group to hand over a charter early.

Guitterrez informed parents about the decision on Wednesday.

Mary Moran is the executive director of Our Voice Nuestra Voz, which launched a campaign to bring attention to low state ratings when scores came out this fall.

“Parents are upset that their school is closing,” she said, especially when they learn about it mid-year.

This closure was a surprise, she said, because the school still had another year on its contract. “Now you’re telling me you’re closing a year early because you’re an F?”

Ellis didn’t answer a question about whether a new school would open next fall at the City Park site.

“There will be a public and transparent siting process for the McDonogh 28 building,” Ellis said.

McDonogh City Park Academy won’t be the only ReNEW school closing next summer.

ReNEW Cultural Arts Academy’s D letter grade was not high enough to earn a second charter renewal, which requires a C. The Orleans Parish school district was already prepared to assign a new operator to that school.

ReNEW McDonogh City Park Academy will hold a parent meeting at 4 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the closure.

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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.