Orleans Parish schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. on Monday announced his plan to close four charter schools where he had already halted enrollment. The news comes days after the state Department of Education released annual school ratings.
Last week, Lewis said he planned to recommend closing Edgar P. Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy, saying the charter school’s governing board repeatedly failed — at a level he had never before seen — to comply with state and district policies and laws. And over the past few months, he strongly hinted that Medard Nelson Elementary School, William J. Fischer Elementary School and McDonogh 32 Elementary School would close at the end of the school year.
Closing those four schools is exactly what he recommended on Monday.
Last week, as school grades loomed, parents wondered whether their schools would close. State ratings weigh heavily in Lewis’ decision which directs the annual New Orleans’ annual charter school shake-up. Nelson, Fischer, and McDonogh 32 had all had F’s for several years in a row.
Fischer and McDonogh 32, both located on the West Bank, moved in to the same building amid low enrollment. Both are overseen by the Algiers Charter group. Nelson, located on St. Bernard Avenue, is overseen by the New Beginnings Schools Foundation.
Administrative issues are also considered in the renewal process. Harney had a C which dropped to a D this year, but administrative problems at the Central City charter school are the reason the district is denying its charter. The school received 11 notices of non-compliance in the last year — for financial mismanagement, failing to follow charter school governance standards and inadequate special education services — district documents show.
The district halted OneApp, its citywide centralized enrollment lottery, at the four schools earlier this fall. When asked why, district officials said they didn’t want any more students to attend schools that were likely to close at the end of the school year. That move sent a strong signal that the schools could shutter due to academic or administrative problems.
Approved charter groups are awarded five-year contracts to operate a school. During the fourth year of operation schools can receive a one-year extension to complete that term. During their fifth year of operation, the district decides whether the school’s contract will be renewed. Renewals are generally for five years but can be longer if a school performs well, or shorter in the case of academic or financial concerns.
This year, fifteen charter schools in total are up for charter contract renewal or extension.
There are nine other schools up for charter renewals. Lewis is recommending seven get five-year contracts. They are Dolores T. Aaron Elementary School, KIPP East Community, Lafayette Academy, Lake Area at John F. Kennedy High School, Samuel J. Green Charter School, Sophie B. Wright Learning Academy and Success Preparatory Academy.
He recommends ARISE Academy, which has a D letter grade, and ReNEW Accelerated High School, an alternative high school, each receive three-year contracts.
Lewis is also recommending Foundation Preparatory Academy and Andrew H. Wilson Charter School receive charter extensions to finish out their current five-year contracts.
Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run. This summer, all Recovery School District charters in New Orleans transferred back to control of the Orleans Parish school district, marking the first time since Hurricane Katrina the locally elected school board has overseen most city schools. There are also a handful of state-authorized charters operating in the city.
Lewis’ recommendations go before the Orleans Parish School Board’s accountability committee on Tuesday and the full board on Thursday. His decisions stand unless the board overrides them.
The November decisions largely shape the district for the following school year. Lewis was caught off guard this fall when Crescent Leadership Academy, an alternative high school for 7th through 12th grade students, abruptly decided to close Oct. 31. That left 7th and 8th grade students without an alternative setting option in the city.
The accountability committee’s agenda noted The NET, an alternative high school, wanted to change its charter to allow 8th grade students at its school. That would partially fix the lack of an alternative setting for middle school students in the city.
The agenda did not include specific information about Cypress Academy, the district’s only direct-run — rather than charter — elementary school. However, Foundation Preparatory Academy, one of the four charter operators the district has suggested could take Cypress over, is requesting a material amendment to its charter.
District officials are scheduled to announce the school’s new operator at a parent meeting Monday night.