Families and staff of New Orleans charter schools face a longer wait, to see if their schools will remain open next year.
The fate of 21 schools – one in four New Orleans charter schools – hinges on these high-stakes decisions.
Most schools are meeting standards and will remain open. But they all have contracts that are up for renewal, because of the city’s completely decentralized school system. In New Orleans, all public schools are run by independent, nonprofit charter operators whose contracts can be three, five, seven, or 10 years in length.
The 16 schools with contracts up for renewal this year are: Edward Hynes Charter School – UNO, KIPP East, KIPP Leadership, Living School, Landry High School, McDonogh 35 Senior High School, New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics (Sci High), Opportunities Academy, Phillis Wheatley Community School, ReNEW Dolores T. Aaron Elementary, ReNEW Laurel Elementary School, ReNEW Schaumburg Elementary, Robert Russa Moton Charter School, Samuel J. Green Charter School, Sophie B. Wright High School and Success Prep at Thurgood Marshall.
Five other schools — Esperanza Academy, John F. Kennedy High School, Foundation Prep, The NET East and Lafayette Academy — are up for a contract extension. A contract extension allows a school in its initial five-year charter contract to finish its final year.
Six of the 21 schools are not expected to meet the requirements for renewal or extension. They went through a comprehensive review process this fall and made their case to the Orleans Parish School Board in a public meeting last month. Esperanza’s CEO Myrialis King says the district must consider the school’s high English Learner population when making its decision.
But without the School Performance Scores – also known as SPS – from the state Department of Education – NOLA Public Schools cannot make their much-awaited decisions about contract renewals and extensions, they told The Lens this week.
The state letter grades, the SPS, are based largely on standardized test scores.
To make district charter recommendations by November 14, the district’s timeline depended on the state’s release of its A-F school letter ratings by November 1, district officials said.
Giving time to families who disagree with the district recommendations
Superintendent Avis Williams had hoped to deliver news of the closures to families – and affected charters – earlier in the school year.
The mid-November timeline set by NOLA Public Schools gave families from closing schools more time to weigh in on the superintendent’s recommendations and perhaps mobilize before the next Orleans Parish School Board meeting, to urge the board to deny certain district recommendations.
Now, the district is pushing back the whole timeline, delaying the public release of the superintendent’s charter recommendations. Once her recommendations are issued, the school board will likely vote on them at their Dec. 12 meeting.
As of this year, the Board will ultimately make the final decisions, approving or rejecting each recommendation made by the superintendent.
In the past, charter decisions were made unilaterally by the superintendent, then announced publicly in the superintendent’s report. But earlier this year, the Orleans Parish School Board approved a new policy that gave them the final say on the superintendent’s decisions.
So, in upcoming months – for the first time in years – families will be able to voice their concerns to board members before they vote: a new board policy passed earlier this year makes the recommendations a board “action item.” According to Robert’s Rules of Order, which governs the way public meetings are run, before all action items members of the public are guaranteed the right to comment.
This allows families to speak up for each school, explaining why the school matters or why its scores didn’t reflect its true value to the community. On occasion, someone may also appear before the board to defend a closure decision, by explaining how a school was not meeting student needs.
Superintendent’s recommendations delayed, past original November 14 date
At this point, the November 14 announcement will not happen. It will be reset for a later date, district spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo told The Lens.
“The scheduling of this meeting hinged on the timely release of the 2023 School Performance Scores (SPS) by November 1, 2023,” Alfonzo wrote in an email.
It’s possible that district officials created an overly optimistic timeline. Because LDOE officials don’t see their timeline as late. “Scores were released November 16 last year, and we are on a similar timeline this year,” spokesman Ted Beasley said.
Yet it’s true that scores have been released earlier. For the three years prior to COVID-19, scores were released during the first week of November. But that early date has not been dependable. In 2016, the SPS were released on Nov. 21. And last year, 2022, the scores were released in mid-November.
Despite the delay, notice of the superintendent’s recommendations will still go to charter operators: “Charter CEOs, board chairs/presidents, families, and staff will continue to receive ample notice,” Alfonzo wrote in the email.
The district’s timeline still incorporates that notice: charter CEOs and board chairs will learn of the superintendent’s decision seven business days in advance of the announcement meeting and families and staff will be informed four days before “any nonrenewal recommendations,” Alfonzo said.
The district has not set a new announcement date yet. The superintendent will likely make her recommendations at a board committee meeting already set for December 12. Or it’s possible that the school board could call a special meeting prior to the scheduled one.
Clarification: A potentially misleading sentence has been removed from this story.