About 93 percent of John F. Kennedy High School’s senior class has met the requirements to graduate, including three students from the graduation scandal-plagued class of 2019, the CEO of the school’s governing charter group said Thursday. 

Of 123 seniors, 114 will graduate over three days in June during small ceremonies aimed at keeping students, families and educators safe from COVID-19. Additionally, two juniors will graduate early, New Beginnings Schools Foundation CEO Kevin George said.

George said his charge this year was guiding students to graduation and ensuring they had what they needed. He thanked his team and the high school’s principal. 

“When you talk about blood, sweat and tears, I know what that means because I’ve seen a lot of this,” George said. 

The 2020 senior class’ experience is much different than that of the class of 2019. Last year, about half the graduating class learned a month after crossing the stage clad in cap and gown that they had not been eligible for diplomas because they had not been offered the classes they needed to graduate, among a number of other problems. During the fallout, several administrators left the New Beginnings Schools Foundation charter group, parents sued and NOLA Public Schools District Superintendent called for a criminal investigation into the school.  Students affected by last year’s scandal were left to make up courses during the summer or into this school year

The class of 2020, meanwhile, has spent the last two months learning from home, after the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered schools throughout the state in mid-March. Gov. John Bel Edwards also waived attendance requirements and simplified graduation requirements — dropping some exam requirements for the class of 2020 and allowing districts to rewrite grading policies — leaving the decision up to districts. Many charter school groups, like New Beginnings, are legally considered their own districts, though Kennedy and other charters in New Orleans are authorized and regulated by the NOLA Public Schools district. 

At a Thursday night meeting of New Beginnings’ board, George updated the charter group’s board members on the status of students and the closeout of the organization. The organization agreed to give up both of its schools — Kennedy and Pierre A. Capdau Charter School — last summer as new details emerged in the graduation scandal. Effective July 1, KIPP New Orleans Schools will take over Kennedy and InspireNOLA charter group will take over Capdau. 

New Beginnings will need $450,000 to close out the organization in the coming fiscal year, according to estimates from financial consultants hired by the group. That includes money for a state-required audit, legal fees — the group is facing two lawsuits related to last year’s scandal — and closeout staff and contractors. 

Board member Michael Hubbard thought the closeout cost estimate was low. And board president Raphael Gang said the legal costs were difficult to estimate, especially since courts have been operating at a limited capacity due to the COVID-19 crisis. 

“Neither of the lawsuits have really moved forward in any meaningful way because of COVID-19, so it’s really hard to budget for,” Gang said in the virtual meeting. 

Gang said the “bare bones” of the organization, including George, will stay on after June 30 to help transfer student records and take care of other tasks. 

Additionally, the NOLA Public Schools district has said NBSF is responsible for retaining its public records. 

Halfway through its meeting the board had to switch to Gang’s personal Zoom account, a platform many groups are using to hold virtual board meetings during the pandemic, because the standard 40-minute allotment was running out. 

The network is also receiving CARES Act federal relief funding for each school. New Beginnings will get $172,287 for Capdau and $150,250 for Kennedy. That represents 40 percent of the full allocation for each.

The rest will go to the networks taking over each campus. George said he’s working with both charter groups to purchase what they want for the schools. 

“We’re being good neighbors, saying, ‘Hey, what do you guys want us to order?’ ” George said. 

As schools prepare for an uncertain fall, which could include reduced class sizes or more at-home learning, most of the money will be used for laptops, remote learning software and similar items, he said. George said they’re trying to get orders for both networks in as soon as possible as he expects the items to be in “high demand.”

The board also voted to amend the charter group’s state-required pupil progression plan. Those plans outline grading and promotion practices. George requested it be changed to align with the waivers granted by Edwards and the state education board. 

“The last thing parents will receive from us is a report card.”

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...