Two more administrators have left the New Beginnings Schools Foundation, the charter network that operates John F. Kennedy High School, amid investigations into myriad graduation problems at the Gentilly charter school last spring.
Chief Financial Officer Terri Vincent resigned, and Director of Student Services Lori Taylor is no longer employed, New Beginnings board president Raphael Gang confirmed at a board finance committee meeting Tuesday evening. Vincent and Taylor couldn’t be reached for comment.
Asked if the departures were related to the problems that caused more than half of Kennedy’s 2019 senior class to be ineligible to graduate, Gang said he couldn’t discuss personnel issues.
NOLA Public Schools district Communications Director Tania Dall said the district does not comment on personnel matters.
The news of the departures was prompted by board member Kim Ramsey, who asked network CEO Kevin George if any of the executive team he’d introduced in August had changed. George said he’d hired Julie Conton as the new director of student support services.
Gang said it may not be the end of turnover at the network.
“As recently as a few weeks ago, we are finding things out about the organization that require personnel decisions,” Gang said, an apparent reference to ongoing investigations into Kennedy and New Beginnings.
“I would say it would be unwise to assume we won’t have more personnel things that need to occur over the course of the year — either additions or subtractions — I think it’s just the inevitability of the status of the organization,” he said.
Gang noted that New Beginnings plans to close at the end of the school year, which could present challenges in recruiting.
“We’re in the final year of an organization. We’re not going to be attracting the same kinds of people,” he said.
Vincent and Taylor’s departures are not the first at the network since the spring, when a former employee alleged students’ grades were being inappropriately inflated. Those allegations set the investigations in motion. It has since been revealed that problems at the school went well beyond a handful of students with mysteriously altered Algebra grades.
Soon after the grade-changing allegations went public, CEO Michelle Blouin-Williams was placed on leave. She later resigned.
The board hired a contractor, TenSquare, LLC, to help manage the three-school network in Bloun-Williams’ absence.* Working with staff, TenSquare discovered widespread irregularities in students’ records. By May, the scope of the problems had become clearer, and late that month, the network announced that five administrators at the high school were “no longer employees.”
New Beginnings, NOLA Public Schools and the Louisiana Department of Education all opened investigations.
Of the three, only the Department of Education has released a written report thus far. That report found serious inadequacies with the high school’s course offerings, special education services and inappropriate use of remedial courses. (This week, NOLA Public Schools hosted a two-day training for high school leaders and counselors that covers those issues.)
Last month, District Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said his staff’s investigation would be released “soon.” Through Dall, the district provided a written statement this week in response to The Lens’ questions about the report. The statement did not provide an update on its status or projected release date, saying only that the report would be released upon completion.
It’s unclear if New Beginnings’ internal investigation is complete. The network has refused to release it, citing potential interest from law enforcement, WWL-TV reported. In June, Lewis called for a criminal investigation into Kennedy. He also announced a citywide audit of high school student records.
Meanwhile, many Kennedy seniors were denied copies of their transcripts for months pending review by the network and the state. Some students believe they have lost college scholarships and financial aid opportunities because of the schools’ errors.
A class-action lawsuit against the network, district and state are underway. Attorney Suzette Bagneris recently expanded the suit — initially filed on behalf of the 2019 seniors found ineligibe to graduate — to include all current Kennedy students.
At Tuesday’s committee meeting, Ramsey, the board member, questioned why the board’s academic committee hadn’t met recently. George and Gang said the committee chair was waiting until late October, when enrollment numbers, state scores and initial school-level testing results would be available.
Board members also discussed the network budget, which is on the agenda for Thursday’s full board meeting. They are researching how to budget school operations and how much money they may have to set aside for shutdown-related expenses, legal costs, post-shutdown records retention and a yearly financial audit, among other administrative costs.
KIPP New Orleans will take over Kennedy. The district has not yet announced plans for New Beginnings’ other school, Pierre A. Capdau Charter School. The third school in the network, Medard Nelson Charter school, closed over the summer.
The network is projecting a $1.1 million surplus for the end of the 2019-2020 school year when the network will close. Once they figure out how much to save for shutdown costs, such as a final audit and legal fees, George and board members plan to look at additional support they can provide in the two schools.
The New Beginnings board meets Thursday at 6 p.m.
*Correction: This story originally misstated the number of schools operated by New Beginnings when TenSquare, LLC was hired to help manage the network earlier this year. At the time, the network was responsible for three schools, not two. One of the schools, Medard Nelson Charter School, has since closed. (Sept. 13, 2019)