New Orleans becomes first major American city without traditional schools

On a typically hot July 1 in south Louisiana, when many students and educators are enjoying long holiday vacations, New Orleans has quietly become the first major American city without any traditional schools.

The Orleans Parish school district has teetered on the edge of an all-charter district for years. Each year the number of the district’s direct-run schools has dwindled as some have closed and others have converted or been taken over by charter organizations. During the 2018-2019 school year, the district ran just three schools directly, and that was only after unexpectedly taking control of two struggling charter schools.

The last school to convert, McDonogh 35 Senior High School, is doing so as part of a two-part plan to shut down the traditional school and restart it as a charter. The historic school needed a reset after years of declining scores, Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said last year when he announced the changes.

“My goal is to bring McDonogh 35 back into its premiere position as an academically successful, first-tier high school and this is the best step forward,” Lewis said in December.

In our opinion: Thank you to Jed Horne

Longtime Lens opinion editor Jed Horne retired this week. Lens co-founder Karen Gadbois and other staffers write about his contributions to the publication.

Karen Gadbois, Co-founder and Director: On a hot summer day in 2008, Lens co- founder Ariella Cohen and I made a trek to Poplarville, Mississippi, to meet with Jed Horne.

We didn’t have a budget, we didn’t have an office, we didn’t even have a staffing plan, but we had a really good idea: an investigative news site.

For years my old Providence buddy Dan Gosch had encouraged me to look up his childhood friend Jed, but I was always hesitant to do so, intimidated by Jed’s credentials and his position as city editor at The Times-Picayune. What would I, a lowly post-Katrina blogger, have to say to Jed, a Pulitzer Prize winner?

But faced with the daunting task of creating a new news entity, it only seemed to make sense that we at least make the trek to his home and pick his brain. We sat and visited with Jed and his powerhouse wife, Jane, and sometime between lunch and clearing the dishes, Ariella asked Jed if he would consider becoming our editor, for what would become The Lens.

Judge signs order voiding City Council Entergy plant votes

Over the objections of attorneys for the city, Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Piper Griffin signed an order voiding two New Orleans City Council votes in favor of Entergy New Orleans’ power plant in eastern New Orleans. The order applies to a February 2018 utility committee vote recommending final approval and, more importantly, the full council’s final vote on March 8, 2018.

The ruling ends, at least for now, a lawsuit filed by a coalition of environmental groups in April 2018, arguing that the meetings — which were filled to capacity, leaving dozens of people outside and unable to participate — violated the state’s Open Meetings Act.

It’s possible, even likely, that the council will appeal the decision. Reached by phone on Friday afternoon, Adam Swensek, executive counsel for the City Council, declined to comment. A spokesman for Entergy New Orleans could not immediately be reached for comment.

Behind The Lens episode 39: ‘That’s where the district wants to go’

This week on Behind The Lens: A special all-schools episode.

As of July 1st, New Orleans is an all-charter school district. The historic McDonough 35 High School was the last to convert to charter, and will be run by the nonprofit Inspire NOLA. We’ll talk with Doug Harris, Director of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, about the state of education in the city.

Also, more than half of John F. Kennedy High School’s seniors were ineligible to graduate, according to an audit of student transcripts done after allegations of grade inflation were brought against the school. The parent of a Kennedy senior is suing the school for mismanagement, as the fallout over improper record keeping and alleged grade inflation continues. We’ll talk to Suzette Bagneris, the attorney who filed the lawsuit.

Kennedy High School in the news

A Louisiana Department of Education review released Tuesday found that John F. Kennedy High School inappropriately used credit recovery courses, offered classes that didn’t meet state standards and found problems with how the school was educating students with special needs.

The news came as no surprise to Darnette Daniels, who one day earlier sued the school, the Orleans Parish School Board and the state board of education on behalf of her daughter over widespread transcript problems with the 2019 Kennedy senior class. Roughly half of those were found to be ineligible for a diploma, according to a review that was released more than a month after their graduation ceremony.

At their May commencement, 155 students were listed in the program. The state found 85 of those students were eligible for diplomas, but 70 students lacked one or more graduation requirements.

Opinion: Codrescu and Hearn: One immigrant writer recalls another and the city both called home

Andrei Codrescu reflects: “I came to the U.S as a refugee in 1966, a year of civil unrest, change, and transformation. I learned my new language and wrote in it about the variety and wonder of American experience. In my adopted city of New Orleans I wandered the streets of the French Quarter. Many writers, famous or not, dead or alive, had done their wandering on these streets, drawing from her steamy embrace a raw, fantastic je ne sais quoi.

New Orleans was, like me, a refuge from the U.S. proper. I was an outsider in an outside city. The U.S. had offered me asylum, as it did to others, Indifferent of origins, accents, or even aptitudes and skills, but New Orleans offered something more to my poetry-intoxicated youth. Here, the line between life and death felt transparent and palpable, its ghosts more alive than other places’ still living luminaries. The je ne sais quoi of New Orleans had given wings to Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Lafcadio Hearn.”

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...