Mary D. Coghill Charter School board members listen to NOLA Public Schools' Amanda Aiken on Oct. 22, 2019 as she answers questions about the upcoming charter renewal process. (Marta Jewson/The Lens)

The NOLA Public Schools district announced plans to renew or extend seven C and D rated charter schools’ contracts and deny the renewal of two charters with F ratings at a Tuesday afternoon Orleans Parish School Board committee meeting. 

Families and staff at the two F rated schools in their critical contract renewal year — Mary D. Coghill Charter School and Joseph A. Craig Charter School — have known for months that non-renewal was the likely outcome based on poor test scores.

Still, an official from each school asked the board to reconsider the administration’s recommendation to take away their charters. The district has hinted in letters to parents that another charter group may take over the schools but could not immediately confirm that. 

The recommendations come just two weeks after the Louisiana Department of Education released 2018-19 state letter grades for schools. The high-stakes ratings are one of the primary factors the district considers when deciding which charter schools stay open. The committee also heard from the district about school letter grades, which concerned committee members. 

While there was a slight increase of students attending A and B schools, there was a larger increase in students attending D and F schools. While the district has highlighted student growth, a year-over-year comparison, many schools have struggled with state exams. 

Of the city’s roughly 80 schools, the majority got an F on the assessment portion of the state ratings, which is a measure of single-year academic performance. 

That difference caught board member and committee chair Ben Kleban’s attention.

“There’s a huge disparity there, which is concerning.”

SUB: Charter extensions and renewals

The charter renewal recommendations were presented by district Chief Portfolio Innovation and Accountability Officer Kelli Peterson during the Orleans Parish School Board’s newly renamed “Accountability and Charters Committee” meeting on Tuesday afternoon. 

Even read one by one, the nine schools’ recommendations were presented in about two minutes. Because the information came in a report, it was not open for public comment, but Kleban allowed three people to speak on the matter. The board does not vote on charter contract renewals but can decide to override the administration’s recommendation with a vote from five members of the seven-member board. 

Coghill board member the Rev. Aubrey Watson asked the board to reconsider, arguing the school had only received poor state ratings in the last three years. 

In addition to an F letter grade in 2019, Coghill has had problems with special education services and a now-resigned board member. Earlier this year, the district warned the school that  the board member, Eric Jones, was overstepping his role in daily school operations when he told staff not to issue F letter grades to students. He resigned this summer. 

Watson admitted the school had struggled with leadership in the past. 

“The new staff we have on board now have been working tirelessly since the summer to correct those noncompliance issues,” White said. 

Treme activist Jerome Smith spoke passionately about Joseph A. Craig Charter School — which is located in the neighborhood — and asked the district to reconsider. 

He argued the school had good community support and needed community-focused leadership. 

“The injury is to the black child. America is going to take care of the white child,” he said in his remarks about the elementary school. 

“I’m petitioning for a reevaluation as it relates to Craig where we tie into the social community” he pleaded. 

The board president of Friends of King Schools, which runs Craig school, also asked to speak. Kleban said he’d only wanted one representative per group but allowed her 30 seconds.

“First of all I would like an extension for Joseph A. Craig to remain open for three to five years,” Hilda Young said, noting new state standards have been a challenge. “We have had problems with accountability change of the last couple of years.”

The committee did not formally respond to any of their requests. 

Meanwhile, the school district administration recommended seven schools receive either a contract extension or renewed contract. 

Andrew Wilson Charter School, George Washington Carver Collegiate Academy and The NET Charter High School: Central City, an alternative school, each received a C letter grade and earned a five-year charter contract

Foundation Preparatory and Langston Hughes Charter Academy received D’s from the state. They earned three-year charter contracts.

The district conducts a mid-contract review in charter schools’ initial terms. Booker T. Washington and Livingston Collegiate Academy are in their initial contracts and each received a C letter grade. The administration has recommended they be allowed to finish their initial five-year contracts. 

The full board meets Thursday.

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 to New Orleans in the fall of 2014 after covering education for the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with majors in journalism and social welfare and a concentration in educational policy studies.