Schools
 

Facing closure, two F-rated Algiers charter schools move in together

Two F-rated Algiers Charter network elementary schools consolidated to one building this week as they face closure at the end of the 2018-19 school year amid the city’s annual charter school shake-up.

The move by William J. Fischer Academy and McDonogh 32 Charter School came more than a month after the Orleans Parish school district halted enrollment at the two West Bank schools and about two weeks before state school letter grades are due to be released.

The two charter schools have been rated F by the state Department of Education for two years, meaning they have underperformed on state standardized tests. Fischer was also rated an F in 2015. Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run. In exchange for the freedom to hire who they want and set curriculum, the schools must meet annual academic and financial goals to stay open.

Both schools’ charter contracts are up for renewal in December. They each must receive a C to be eligible for a new contract under district guidelines. The district wasn’t confident that would happen.

The Algiers Charter network formed in 2005 and worked to quickly open schools after Hurricane Katrina. At its peak, the network operated nine schools and was the largest charter group in the city. If both Fischer and McDonogh 32 close, the network would run two schools next year.

“The Orleans Parish School Board will not allow additional seats to be filled at schools that are in danger of losing their charter due to poor academic performance or that have several issues of non-compliance,” spokeswoman Dominique Ellis told The Lens in September.

At an October press conference, Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said test scores helped drive that decision. They are the largest component in the school letter grade calculation.

“After I receive test scores and have a clear understanding of where that school falls during renewal, it will be a disservice” to allow new students to attend, he said.

The district did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

The charter group’s spokeswoman Tammi Major refused to answer questions about the network’s plans and referred The Lens to their website.

“Algiers Charter has no comment,” she said.

At an Algiers Charter board meeting in August, minutes show board members requested permission to combine the schools and sought priority enrollment for the students.

In a letter to parents posted on the network’s website, Interim CEO Stuart Gay said the schools will both operate at Fischer for the remainder of the school year. Fischer is located at the intersection of L.B. Landry Ave and Semmes Avenue, about one mile from the McDonogh 32 campus at De Armas and Belleville Streets.

Gay noted the schools would remain independent and keep their principals.

“This decision was made in order to stabilize our classrooms through the 2018-2019 school year and to ensure the best academic year possible for our students,” he wrote.

A question and answer page on the Algiers Charter website doesn’t explicitly say the schools are closing, but it does say students will be given a priority status reserved for displaced students in closing schools in the city’s centralized school application system, called OneApp.

That status appears to indicate another charter group won’t be taking over either school.

Algiers’ former CEO Rene’ Lewis-Carter, a longtime principal, jumped ship this summer for a top post in the superintendent’s central office.

Meanwhile, the school shuffle continues in Mid-City, too.

Last week, Lewis-Carter, who is now chief of district-operated schools and student services, told parents at a meeting that four charter school groups may be interested in taking over the district’s only direct-run elementary school, Cypress Academy.

The district agreed to take over the charter school last spring when its nonprofit board voted to close the school three days before the end of the school year. In response to parents demands, the district agreed to run the school for two years.

The four groups are Foundation Preparatory Academy, Noble Minds Institute for the Whole Child, The Querencia School and Morris Jeff Community School.

Both Cypress and Noble Minds, which serve a higher than average population of special education students, had budget concerns this year.

“The Orleans Parish School board is currently working with the families of Cypress Academy about the future of the school,” Ellis said.

In a letter to parents Wednesday, Lewis-Carter said there are only two ways for Cypress to remain open beyond the 2019-2020 school year: find a charter operator for it or merge it with another charter group.

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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.