Emails: Kennedy High School administrators scrambled to confirm graduates’ eligibility, even after graduation day

On May 16, a contractor reviewing John F. Kennedy High School student transcripts sent an email to administrators at the New Beginnings Schools Foundation, the charter school network that runs Kennedy. It was the day before the Gentilly high school’s graduation ceremony.

The email included lists of 15 “pending” graduates and 12 “non-grads.”

“Please tell me asap if I am wrong about any student’s status,” wrote Laney French, who works for TenSquare LLC, a Washington D.C.-based consulting company hired by New Beginnings to manage the network following the suspension of CEO Michelle Blouin-Williams, who later resigned.

That email, obtained by The Lens through state public records law, is one of dozens that show how administrators and contractors at the charter network scrambled to audit seniors’ graduation eligibility in the weeks leading up to — and even after — the school’s May 17 graduation. The emails also show rising tension between New Beginnings employees and TenSquare employees as the contractors discovered more and more problems.

The task, dubbed “Senior Graduation Project,” was a multi-faceted audit that required reviewing grades, attendance, transcripts, and state exam scores among other things. The 690-student school had 168 seniors in an official state count taken Feb. 1.

A year later, progress continues on Cantrell program to ID ‘high-risk’ residents, but few details available

It’s been just over a year since Mayor LaToya Cantrell created the Gun Violence Reduction Task Force, a group of seven volunteers and Cantrell’s Director of Strategic Initiatives Joshua Cox. Since then, her administration has provided scant details to the public about what exactly it’s working on.

But in October, using communications obtained through a public records request, The Lens reported that the task force was creating a new tool to identify individual residents deemed to be at a high risk for involvement in a gun crime. Those individuals would then be targeted for “impactful social interventions,” rather than a strict law enforcement response, as was the case with a similar program created under former Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

That information was combed out of emails obtained by The Lens. The Cantrell administration had not publicly announced the project, nor did it respond to repeated requests for comment on the story.

But new emails obtained by The Lens show that progress continues, even as the Cantrell administration remains quiet.

Behind The Lens episode 35: ‘I know this isn’t welcome news. I wish it were different.’

This week on Behind The Lens:

Following allegations of grade inflation at John F. Kennedy High School, email communication show school administrators scrambling to confirm students graduation eligibility, even after graduation day.

And a former dump site is being considered for a high school football field in a possible land swap between the Orleans Parish School Board and the Housing Authority of New Orleans. Marta Jewson will have the details.

Also, a year after Mayor LaToya Cantrell created New Orleans’ Gun Violence Reduction Task Force, a lack of information and transparency about the program has some criminal justice and civil rights advocates concerned.

AG opinion: 911 and 311 merger, in effect for months, is ‘improper,’ doesn’t follow state law

An opinion issued late last month by the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office says that the recent merger of New Orleans’ 911 and 311 services doesn’t appear to follow state laws governing the uses of the 911 call center.

And though the merger was done in part to save the city money — shifting 311 expenses to the Orleans Parish Communication District, which runs the 911 center — the AG’s office says the Communication District shouldn’t be using its own funds on non-emergency 311 calls.

Legal opinions from the Attorney General’s Office, while not legally binding, are considered important legal guidance for state and local government agencies.

Juvenile defendants transferred to adult jail as advocates balk at Cantrell’s new approach

A group of protesters gathered in front of New Orleans City Hall on Thursday to speak out against the city’s new, more aggressive approach to juvenile crime.

“When we start focusing on longer detention for kids, we start looking at curfew laws for kids, that’s investing in cages, not kids,” said Cameron Clark of the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of several organizations at a demonstration outside of City Hall Thursday morning.

“We can’t turn our back on the work we’ve already been doing for the community and for the black and brown kids in the city. Because we know they’re targeting black and brown kids,” he said.

The group was protesting what they saw as a surprising change in tone from Mayor Latoya Cantrell on juvenile crime over the past month, as city officials announced several new policies that take a more punitive approach.

Opinion: Will Louisiana’s rural electricity co-ops help an ‘oil state’ break free of fossil fuels?

Kevin Fitzwilliam on electricity co-ops: “Louisiana has had its share of fits and starts in entering the 21st-century world of renewable energy.

Most notably, there were the residential solar tax credits offered from 2009 to 2015 — the highest in the nation at the time.  Tens of thousands of homeowners across the state took advantage of those tax credits to purchase solar systems that will lower their electric bills for decades. Residential solar energy became so popular in New Orleans, for example, that by 2015 the city ranked in the Top 10 nationally in solar per capita.

Since then Louisiana has settled back into the dip of what solar professionals call the “solar coaster,” with little statewide political support for renewable-energy policies.  We’re an “oil state,” the pols want us to remember. So, the idea of a Louisiana resident making renewable energy and energy efficiency the center of a campaign for local elective office is about as common here as cool weather in August.”

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...