From 2019, John F. Kennedy High School at Lake Area on Paris Avenue. Credit: Charles Maldonado / The Lens

John F. Kennedy High School Principal Harold Clay left the Gentilly charter school earlier this month, less than six weeks into the 2019-2020 school year, The Lens confirmed. Clay was hired to lead Kennedy — which has been mired in a controversy over its 2019 graduating class — in July. 

Alnita Porea will lead the 621-student high school. She previously served as Kennedy’s assistant principal and in leadership roles at Mary D. Coghill Charter School and Edna Karr High School, according to a release from the charter group. She taught at Warren Easton Charter High School and McDonogh 42 Charter School. 

Clay is at least the tenth employee to leave the New Beginnings Schools Foundation network, which oversees Kennedy, since investigations into alleged grade-fixing began last spring. The network previously lost its CEO, director of student services, chief financial officer and a handful of Kennedy administrators. The high school has struggled for years to retain leadership. 

Clay could not be reached for comment for this story. 

After allegations of suspicious grade changes became public in mid-March, former CEO Michelle Blouin-Williams was placed on paid leave April 1. She later resigned. 

Under Blouin-Williams, New Beginnings and the NOLA Public Schools district had previously said the claims of improper grade inflation — made by former New Beginnings employee Runell King — were untrue. But after Blouin-Williams’ suspension, the charter group hired the Adams and Reese law firm to re-investigate. The firm quickly ruled the claims unfounded, according to NOLA Public Schools district documents. A later investigation by the district, however, was “inconclusive.” The district found that grades had been changed and could not find a valid explanation for those changes. But district officials were unable to interview a teacher at the center of the incident. 

In Blouin-Williams’ absence, the board hired contractor TenSquare LLC to help run the school. The group discovered myriad problems with seniors’ course credits and found evidence of grade changing. (This second alleged instance of improper grade changing was later confirmed by the district.)

About half the students in the 2019 senior class were unable to graduate on time as a result of the irregularities. 

As a result, former Principal Brian Gibson, along with four other administrators, left the charter high school in late May, New Beginnings board president Raphael Gang said. 

“We were presented with strong evidence of improper conduct by members of our staff and we took decisive action,” Gang wrote in a late May letter to families.

Clay was hired in July shortly after Kevin George was hired to replace Blouin-Williams as CEO. Kennedy freshman started school on Aug. 1 and older students followed Aug. 5, as some of last year’s seniors still waited on transcripts and diplomas after the grading scandal. Clay’s last day of employment was Sept. 13, Gang told The Lens in an interview. 

Clay is a graduate of Warren Easton High School, according to a biography on the New Beginnings website. He worked for nearly a decade with InspireNOLA Schools at Andrew Wilson Charter School and Edna Karr High School. Before working at Kennedy, he led McDonogh 35 Senior High School in its final year as a traditional school under the Orleans Parish School Board. 

Gang said he could not comment on the nature of Clay’s departure.

Gang provided a statement to The Lens that he said was shared with families. 

“New Beginnings Schools Foundation strives to provide the best education possible for all of our students. We will continue to do that under the leadership of Principal Alnita Porea who has demonstrated remarkable instructional leadership traits. We feel confident in her ability to provide an exceptional year of education for our students.”

This is the last school year New Beginnings will run Kennedy. The nonprofit has voted to give up its charter contract for Kennedy and an elementary school at the end of the school year. KIPP New Orleans Schools will take over Kennedy next summer. Plans for the elementary school have not been announced. 

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...