Schools
 

Three groups apply to run McDonogh 35 Senior High School

Three groups have expressed interest in the Orleans Parish school district’s two-pronged plan to phase out McDonogh 35 Senior High School as it opens up a new school of the same name in its place.

One of the applicants, Smothers Academy Preparatory School, wants to run McDonogh 35 long-term. CEO Damon Smothers said he would reinstate admissions standards if he’s allowed to. Those requirements were dropped after Hurricane Katrina.

There are two applicants to run the school in the short-term, Yardstick Management, an Atlanta-based company, and Community Exceptional Children’s Services Centers, led by a former assistant principal at McDonogh 35.

Proposals to to run McDonogh 35 were due Monday. The district posted them online Wednesday.

“The district will review these proposals, working with community and alumni leaders to make the best decision for students and families,” school district spokeswoman Dominique Ellis said in a written statement.

McDonogh 35, the first public high school for African-Americans in Louisiana, was highly regarded for decades. But it has struggled academically since Katrina.

“Our kids need 35 to be what it used to be,” superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. told school board members in February. “So the path to success is to provide a fresh start to a new operator.”

The school district has issued two requests for proposals. It would issue one contract to phase out the existing school over three years as current students graduate. No new students can enroll, so this fall the school will have sophomores, juniors and seniors.

Meanwhile, another group would start a new school, starting with ninth grade in 2019 and growing a grade each year. It must keep the school name, its maroon and gold colors and Roneagle, its legendary mascot.

The school district has described the arrangements as “non-charter contracts.” Charter schools are subject to laws that limit whether they can have admissions standards and don’t allow conversion of a portion of a school.

Yardstick CEO Ebbie Parsons said his firm specializes in school management services, such as operations and finances. He said his company will often step in while a school searches for a chief operating officer or chief financial officer.

Community Exceptional Children’s Services Centers is led by Shawn Hearn, who now works at Eleanor McMain Secondary School. He couldn’t be reached for comment.

Smothers Academy is an all-boys, state-authorized charter school in Jefferson. The F-rated school has 444 students from kindergarten through seventh grade.*

Damon Smothers, an alumnus of McDonogh 35, said his staff would spend the next school year planning and would enroll freshmen in the fall of 2019.

Smothers was at the February alumni meeting where Lewis took questions about his plan.

“As McDonogh 35 alumni, I think it’s our responsibility to try get the school back to the glory days,” Smothers said by phone Wednesday.

“I think when you’re given the opportunity to do something and have the education and resources, you might as well do it and do it to the best of your ability,” he said.

He plans to require students to pass an exam to enroll.

In soliciting applicants for the long-term operator, the school district said one of its goals is to increase socio-economic diversity and attract private school students. About 95 percent of the school’s 837 students are classified as economically disadvantaged, and 13 percent of them have disabilities, according to state records.

McDonogh 35 is one of the last four schools run directly by the locally elected school board.

Two of the others, Benjamin Franklin Elementary Mathematics and Science School and Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School of Literature and Technology, will convert to charters this summer. Another, Mahalia Jackson Elementary School, is closing.

In its request for applicants, the school district wrote that its “core role is to serve as the authorizer, regulator, and oversight entity for public education in New Orleans.”

This story was updated after publication to note Smothers Academy’s 2017-18 enrollment of 444 students. (March 29, 2018)

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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.