NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. will not renew the charters of Arise Academy or James M. Singleton Charter School, effectively closing the schools at the end of the school year, he announced at Thursday night’s Orleans Parish School Board meeting.
“These decisions are not made lightly,” Lewis said. “Every one of these schools have worked hard to support students but the renewal standards are necessary to make sure our schools are meeting the high standards we have for our students.”
Arise and Singleton students will receive “closing school priority” in the district’s centralized enrollment system, called NOLA-PS Common Application Process (NCAP), for the 2022-23 school year.
Under board policy, the superintendent has the power to make non-renewal decisions without a board vote. However, the Orleans Parish School Board can override his recommendations with a two-thirds majority vote. On Thursday, board members gave no indication that they intended to call for an override vote on the Arise or Singleton closure recommendations.
Both Singleton and Arise had an F rating from the state in the 2018-19 school year, the last time state grades were produced before the pandemic interrupted state exams. In addition to academic concerns, district leaders have issued warnings to Singleton over financial management concerns, special education problems, allegedly phony background checks and board composition issues.
The district attempted to close the school over the summer citing some of those reasons but was stopped by a lawsuit Singleton’s operator, the Dryades YMCA, filed. The organization was granted a temporary injunction that prevented the district from interfering with the school’s operations. But that hasn’t stopped the district from keeping a close eye on the Central City school, including flagging Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams about the alleged financial issues that led him to launch an investigation into the organization.
The lawsuit, which the Dryades YMCA has now asked to have dismissed, is ongoing.
Arise and Singleton, in addition to four others that did not meet renewal criteria, underwent a rigorous review process called a “comprehensive review” over the last several months.
The state Department of Education has not issued school performance scores since 2019, due to lengthy interruptions in in-person school and the suspension of standardized testing during the pandemic. Though testing resumed last spring, the state again decided not to issue state ratings at the request of educators. So the comprehensive review process allowed the superintendent to take additional factors into account, “including but not limited to academic outcomes across a variety of student populations, enrollment, organizational leadership, and financial and organizational compliance.”
But ultimately Lewis recommended Arise and Singleton shut down. Singleton is housed in the Dryades facility. Arise is housed at the Charles Drew Elementary School on St. Claude. District officials said another school will be housed there next year. They will run a process to accept applications from current schools for the space. Earlier this week district officials discussed tightening facility needs after Hurricane Ida caused damage to numerous campuses and a flood at one campus and fire at another required students to temporarily switch buildings.
The closure of Singleton marks a long line of lingering issues at the Central City school.
“Because Dryades YMCA-Singleton Charter is not in good standing, I’ll review a couple of their notices,” Chief Schools Accountability Officer Litouri Smith said. He detailed eight so-called level 2 non-compliance notices the district has issued Singleton over the last three school years.
“They are the only one of these schools, under comprehensive evaluation, with current open notices of non-compliance.”
Four other schools also went through the “comprehensive review” process. They are Einstein Charter School at Sherwood Forest, Elan Academy, Fannie C. Williams Charter School and Harriet Tubman Charter School. Elan was included on a technicality — because it’s never received a state letter grade.
Those schools received a three year “contingent” renewal, which board member Katie Baudouin asked for clarification about.
“Instead of the one annual site visit we do — we’re going to do two,” Smith said. “We will also offer additional oversight for help with finances.”
Six additional schools — Audubon Charter School – Gentilly, Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary Charter School, Collegiate Academy: Rosenwald, Dwight D. Eisenhower Charter School and Firstline Live Oak Charter School — received approval to complete the final year of their charter contracts, called an “extension.”
Seven schools received new charter contract renewals as well.
Einstein Charter School at Village de l’Est, Einstein’s middle and high school, Martin Behrman Charter Academy of Creative Arts and Science, McDonogh 42 Charter School, Rooted School and The NET 2 Charter High School all received five year charter renewals. Eleanor McMain Secondary School was awarded a seven year contract.
Member Carlos Zervigon complimented district staff on the work that went into evaluating the schools this fall.
“This is a mighty lift for the schools and the superintendent. We’ve been in a situation with COVID, the disruption to learning, so I applaud the superintendent and his team for coming up with these conclusions that I think are very sound.”
There was no public comment about the closures.
Lewis did not make a recommendation on Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School’s contract. The district issued the school a warning for alleged special education violations this week and says it is gathering more information before issuing a renewal decision.
The board unanimously approved an anti-retaliation policy.
Our Voice Nuestra Voz Program Director Taylor Castillo said his group has been working with parents, schools and board members over the last year to a the policy that would protect parents and school staff if they make complaints against a school or are involved in any type of investigation.
“Parents shared stories about routinely being ignored after filing complaints … or even being verbally threatened,” Castillo said.
“We now have a policy that will protect parents and assuage their fears.”