Six nonprofit groups have expressed interested in running two New Orleans charter schools that NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. plans to close at the end of the school year, The Lens has learned. But at least four of those applicants — all of which were interested in Mary D. Coghill Charter School — have withdrawn their applications or were found ineligible to run the schools. 

At an Orleans Parish School Board meeting in November, Lewis recommended that Coghill, and another school, Joseph A. Craig Charter School, lose their charter contracts at the end of the school year for failing to meet academic expectations. Lewis’ recommendations could close the schools or allow another group to run its own school in the buildings. 

Along with its academic troubles, Coghill has recently received repeated warning letters from the district for allegedly failing to follow policy or law on items like special education and financial management.

Coghill, which has about 540 students, is run by the Better Choice Foundation. It is the charter group’s only school. Craig, which enrolls 241 students, is run by Friends of King Schools, which also runs Martin Luther King, Jr. Charter School. Lewis’ recommendations that the groups lose the charters stand unless the Orleans Parish School Board votes to override them. Following protests at the November meeting, OPSB President John Brown, Sr. said the board would take another look at the recommendations at its next meeting.

In all, six charter groups applied with the NOLA Public Schools district to take over the school sites. Two groups, Young Audiences and Homer A. Plessy, applied to operate the Craig site, which is on St. Philip Street in Treme. Neither group responded to a request for comment on this story to confirm that they are still interested in Craig. Plessy held a parent meeting on the matter last week

All four groups that applied for Coghill, however, either withdrew their interest or were ineligible for the school, according to a statement from NOLA Public Schools provided Friday. 

One of those groups is the nonprofit that currently runs the school: Better Choice Foundation. Better Choice has run Coghill since 2013, and it earned an F this fall, in a critical year in which its charter was up for renewal. 

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. 

Hynes Charter School and IDEA Charter School initially expressed interest in operating a school at Coghill — which is on Mirabeau Avenue in Gentilly Woods — but both withdrew their interest. Hynes CEO Michelle Douglas said the timing wasn’t right. 

“It would have been used for a third campus,” Douglas wrote in an email last week. Hynes already runs one campus on Harrison Avenue and another on Chatham Drive.  “The timing unfortunately did not work for us.”

Ken Campbell, the executive director of the Southern Louisiana region for IDEA Public Schools said the group is focused on its newly opened school, IDEA Oscar Dunn in eastern New Orleans.

“We are not a candidate for either consolidation opportunity,” Campbell said in an interview Friday. “We just got started and our commitment right now is to serve families in New Orleans east to the best of our abilities.”

Choice Foundation Interim CEO James Fulton said the charter group had been interested in Coghill as temporary space for Lafayette Academy. Lafayette’s middle school has been housed at the old McDonogh 35 on Kerlerec Street since a botched asbestos job at Lafayette’s home facility on Carrollton Avenue in 2017. The temporary set-up has come with academic cost, Fulton said in a recent letter to parents after the school was rated an F by the state.

“We feel that the old Mc35 site is not an ideal facility for middle school students,” Fulton wrote. “We were subsequently informed by NOLA PS that we did not meet the minimum requirements to apply for Coghill site.”

Lewis is expected to announce which groups will run Coghill and Craig at the Orleans Parish School Board meeting next week.

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...