Outgoing interim Jefferson Schools superintendent hopes to retain a role under new administration _lowres

Michelle Blouin-Williams

Two charter elementary schools in Gentilly and Mid-City would be merged under a plan by a charter network to fill a new building and deal with an enrollment drop.

The schools, Gentilly Terrace Charter School on Painters Street in Gentilly and Pierre A. Capdau Charter School on Canal Street in Mid-City, are run by the New Beginnings Charter Schools Foundation, which recently appointed a new CEO. 

That leader, former Orleans Parish School Board administrator Michelle Blouin-Williams, said Wednesday the merger would help fill the new building that has been designated for Capdau next school year. It's on the site of the former Avery Alexander School on St. Roch Avenue.

Blouin-Williams said her proposal comes after a review of Capdau's Oct. 1 enrollment count, which she said was below projections.  

"This new facility encapsulates everything that I know will support the priority of providing a world-class education," she said of the Alexander site. "And if I can offer it to other students in our organization, I think it's a great consideration."

The board of the charter group will consider the plan at a meeting Thursday. 

School mergers in New Orleans often have been fraught with controversy, with parents, students and alumni often emerging as fierce opponents. The hostile reaction from alumni in particular is unsurprising in a city where questions about high school alma maters can be conversation starters. 

Should Blouin-Williams' plan be approved, it would be the second merger for a Gentilly public school in five years and the second time a merger has involved New Beginnings.

The first was in 2011, when Greater Gentilly High merged with Thurgood Marshall Early College High, a school run by the University of New Orleans charter network, which later became New Beginnings. 

That school is now known as Lake Area New Tech Early College High. 

But this situation is different from past mergers, Blouin-Williams said. New Beginnings would be combining two schools "within the same family," she said, speaking of the charter network.

Nor are the two elementary schools being combined historic rivals, as was the case with L.B. Landry High and O. Perry Walker High in Algiers, which became Landry-Walker High in 2013 in what was arguably the most contentious merger in the city's public schools since Hurricane Katrina. 

Already, the New Beginnings organization has been encouraging collaboration among its schools, through professional development and in other ways,  Blouin-Williams said. 

The combined enrollment counts for Capdau and Terrace come in at roughly 750 students, just under the 788-student capacity of the new, 104,479-square-foot Alexander building, she said. 

That means it is unlikely there would be many staff layoffs, if enrollment holds steady next school year. Staff generally are hired based on a school's number of students.

Capdau's enrollment on Oct. 1 was 388, while Terrace's came in at 470. This time last year, Capdau had 411 students, state data show. 

Both schools spent more than they took in last year; the deficits were covered by accumulated surpluses. 

Officials sent a letter home to parents Wednesday explaining the proposal, which the board will consider at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Lake Area School on Paris Avenue. The public is invited to comment on the plans. 

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.