Published Online: July 11, 2006
Published in Print: July 12, 2006, as 56 New Orleans Schools to Accept Students for New Year

56 New Orleans Schools to Accept Students for New Year

Nearly a year after storm, state’s plans for education taking shape.

The Louisiana Department of Education has issued a list of 56 New Orleans public schools that will be accepting students for the coming school year, more than double the 25 that were opened this past year.

After the devastation and mass relocations caused by Hurricane Katrina last August, the biggest mystery is how many students will enroll. The state says the system initially will be able to accommodate up to 34,000 students, though some estimates have put the likely figure below 28,000.

Latest Charters Approved by The State Board of Education

New Orleans Charter School Foundation
The nonprofit organization has selected the Leona Group, a for-profit company with offices in Phoenix, Ariz., and East Lansing, Mich., to operate a K-8 school and a high school.

Algiers Charter School Association
The association, which runs six New Orleans charter schools, will open two more, one K-8 school and a college-preparatory high school.

Treme Charter School Association
The association will open three schools serving children in grades K-5. EdFutures, Inc., a San Diego-based for-profit company that runs schools in Atlanta and Delray Beach, Fla., will provide management services, including marketing, recruitment, hiring staff, and professional development.

Friends of King
Educators and administrators from the existing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School will run it as a charter school serving grades preK-8.

KIPP New Orleans
The nonprofit organization will run a preK-8 school as part of the Knowledge Is Power Program network of schools. Another KIPP school, which will operate under a charter approved before Hurricane Katrina, will also open for the coming school year.

Choice Foundation
The foundation will open a K-7 school. Education and management services will be provided by Mosaica Education Inc., a for-profit organization based in Atlanta that manages 70 charter schools across the nation.

“I think things are coming together,” said Leslie R. Jacobs, a New Orleans native who serves on the state board of elementary and secondary education. “We are laying the foundation to have much better public schools in New Orleans.”

The state Recovery School District, expanded last fall by the state legislature to encompass most of the public schools in the city, will directly operate 18 schools, up from three in the disrupted 2005-06 academic year. This spring, the state approved 10 new charter schools. ("Dual Orleans Systems Grow in Storm’s Wake," June 7, 2006.)

Three will be run by for-profit companies. The state also gave the green light for a new charter to be run as part of the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, a national, nonprofit network of schools serving disadvantaged students. Another KIPP school, to operate under a state charter granted before Hurricane Katrina, also will open this summer.

And the principal and a group of teachers who previously ran a city public school, collaborating with community leaders, successfully won state approval to open a charter school in a vacant building about two miles from their original campus.

State officials and analysts point to two main reasons why the state will be running many more schools this coming academic year. One is the sheer volume of students expected back in the city, where some 65,000 students were enrolled in public schools before the hurricane struck.

“We’ve ended up needing to open more schools than people thought we would,” said Robin G. Jarvis, the acting superintendent of the state’s recovery district. “Early on, in September, October, there was such limited activity in New Orleans. … You have to remember that it took almost a month for the water to drain out of the city.”

Being Choosy

A second reason is that the state has been choosy about the charter applications it has accepted. It hired the Chicago-based National Association of Charter School Authorizers to oversee the application process and make recommendations to the state board of elementary and secondary education this spring.

In the end, the group approved 10 charter schools, or just under 25 percent of the applications, said Greg Richmond, the president of NACSA. Mr. Richmond said that proportion wasn’t much different from his experience when he headed the charter schools office in Chicago.

Mr. Richmond said Louisiana has also asked his group to craft a charter school contract and a policy to align the state’s accountability system with the requirements spelled out under state-approved charters.

Under that policy, approved in May, the state makes clear that to get a charter contract renewed, a school must meet explicit goals for improved student performance, as well as measures related to school finance and management. While the state-issued charters are for five years, if a school fails to meet certain benchmarks within three years, the state may place it on probation or even close it down.

“What we produced was a very specific, objective framework built around measurable student-performance results,” Mr. Richmond said, to “sweep out all the uncertainty and subjectivity.”

As for the state-run schools, Ms. Jarvis said they will feature a strong and focused curriculum, intensive professional development, and innovations in teacher pay aimed at rewarding success.

The state has applied, on behalf of the Recovery School District and several other systems, for a grant under the $99 million federal Teacher Incentive Fund to pay for the pay plan, she said. The idea, which she said would be implemented in a limited number of state-run schools, would be to offer bonuses to teachers who met certain targets for growth in student achievement.

The state is trying to give principals a hand in choosing their teachers. So, even while the state has been actively screening teacher-candidates, it hopes to hire principals first and then hold job fairs in which the principals may select the teachers who are the best fit for their schools.

Some observers said they were pleased to see the state exploring innovative approaches in the schools it will operate. Brigitte T. Nieland, the director of education for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, highlighted some of the plans, such as financial incentives for teachers who improve student learning.

“They’re not bound by collective bargaining the way the old system still is,” she said. “They’re actually talking about performance pay, performance contracts.”

Outside Help

James M. Huger, the chairman of the board of trustees of the New Orleans-based Choice Foundation, recruited community members and a for-profit company to put together one of the charter applications that won approval this spring from the state board. The school, Lafayette Academy, will be housed in the former Lafayette School in New Orleans.

The school’s board includes a lawyer, a director of human resources, an investment counselor, and a former education administrator, Mr. Huger said.

He approached Mosaica Education, which operates 70 charter schools in five states, to help put together the proposal and to run the school. “Mosaica did a lot of the legwork,” Mr. Huger said. “There’s no way this board could have the wherewithal to do what they do.”

Doris Roche-Hicks, who will be the principal of a newly approved charter school, said she will in many ways replicate the school she headed before the storm, which was among the 108 New Orleans campuses the state brought under the Recovery School District.

She estimates that 90 percent of her staff will return to the new Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology. “If you had asked me a couple of years ago, I would have said, no way are we going to go charter,” Ms. Roche-Hicks said. “But this is the hand we’re dealt.”

So far, the biggest charter school operator in the city is the Algiers Charter Schools Association, which runs schools approved both by the state and by the New Orleans district. It opened five charter schools in December and another in March, and recently won approval from the state to open two more charters in the fall.

“They’re public schools, they look similar, they function in a similar way,” said Brian Riedlinger, the chief executive officer of the Algiers association. “What we were able to do was really get some of the extraordinary talent in the area.”

Meanwhile, the Orleans Parish school board has approved 12 charter schools since the hurricane, most of which were high-performing public schools that applied to convert to charter status. After Katrina, the state passed a law preventing the district from chartering any brand-new schools.

One conversion is Warren Easton Senior High School, a selective-admissions school that was among the small number of New Orleans schools to avoid state takeover. The building, a historic landmark, is undergoing $3 million in repairs, said Arthur P. Hardy, a 1965 graduate of the school and the vice president of the Warren Easton Charter Foundation.

He said his group intends to hire many of its previous faculty members, and already has a principal and assistant principal who had worked at the school. Warren Easton Senior High’s supporters opted to change it to charter status because the school board had indicated that it had no plans to reopen the school until 2007 at the earliest, he said, and people had heard rumors that the board might try to sell the building. “We were a school that you would think they would want to keep,” he said, “one of the crown jewels.”

Vol. 25, Issue 42, Pages 14-15

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