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Responding to parents, Orleans Parish school district agrees to run Cypress Academy for two years

The Orleans Parish school district will run Cypress Academy for the next two school years if no group charters it, according to a letter responding to parents’ demands.

The small charter school unexpectedly announced it would close last week, throwing parents into chaos as the school year wrapped up. They were told students would be transferred automatically to another charter organization or they could enter a lottery for the remaining seats at other charter schools.

Cypress’ director, Bob Berk, said the school faced a deficit for next year. He didn’t want to risk shutting down in the middle of the next school year, so the board threw in the towel.

But two days later, the parish school district announced it would take over the school.

In a letter sent Wednesday, Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said the district would make that commitment for the next two school years.

“We are confident that this timeline affords us the best possible opportunity to work together to address the short-term (e.g. staffing) and long-term (e.g. governance) questions facing the school,” Lewis wrote.

Parent Jeremy Dewberry said he’s disheartened the district didn’t commit to running the school for three years. That was one of a handful of parents’ requests.

“Two years is not really enough stability,” Dewberry said.

Parents got to work as soon as the school announced the closure, organizing meetings and writing to district leaders and Orleans Parish School Board members.

After a meeting at Cypress on Thursday, where the school’s new leader was announced, parents stayed after to lay out what they wanted from the district. They asked for a response in writing, which Lewis sent today.

Some parents wanted to govern the school alongside the district, but the district said two governing boards would be too complicated.

The district promises any decision to close the school after the 2019-20 school year would be made by that Thanksgiving. In that case, parents would receive priority in the citywide enrollment lottery for the following school year.

Because the school will be run directly by the district, any group that wants to take it over would have to do so as a conversion charter. It will be up to the school district to decide whether to make that contingent on a vote by parents and staff. The district has required such votes in the past, but not recently.

The earliest the district will accept charter applications for the school is March 2019, according to the letter.

The school’s new leader, longtime district employee Laverne Fleming, will host a meeting for parents at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the school, 4217 Orleans Ave in Mid-City.

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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.