State officials plan this week to spell out the future of three school buildings that have come up for grabs in New Orleans — one in Broadmoor, another in Esplanade Ridge and a third in New Orleans East.
Each campus has housed a charter school operator that failed to meet the state’s requirements for lifting test scores and other measures of academic progress. And each has drawn numerous applications from other charter school groups hoping to move in or start new schools.
With the latest round of takeovers, officials from the state-run Recovery School District are hoping to head off the kind of outcry that often follows these kinds of transitions.
Last week, they briefed reporters on a selection process that included input from a panel of community members. The panel members vetted applications, did school visits and offered feedback, even if they did not make the final call.
RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard acknowledged that the district has alienated community groups in the past, but he insisted that the new approach is as “fair and transparent” as possible.
Even so, there seems little chance the district will avoid controversy altogether. The RSD’s most vocal critics did not have a place on the community panels. And those critics will get a chance to vent any frustrations they have when the state school board meets in New Orleans on Wednesday.
The district’s plans for John McDonogh High School on Esplanade Avenue could be particularly contentious. Brenda Square, a member of a group called the John McDonogh Steering Committee, said she felt the RSD had “hijacked” a community process for deciding the school’s future that already was underway.
Square’s group wants John McDonogh back under the control of the Orleans Parish School Board, the governing body that used to run nearly all of the city’s public schools before the state takeover that followed Hurricane Katrina. “This community doesn’t want another experimental charter,” she said.
On the other hand, the RSD’s effort to be more open with its decision-making does seem to have won some fans. The district used a similar community panel approach in choosing a new operator for Sarah T. Reed High School, and that decision has been mostly welcomed since it was announced last month.
“We have a high school that was selected by the community,” said Minh Nguyen, who heads the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association. About a year ago, VAYLA members took to the street outside Reed to protest the RSD’s decision to close the school down. Now, with a new operator scheduled to reopen the school’s doors, the group is hopeful.
“The community got what we wanted; we got a fair and transparent process,” Nguyen said. “The high school is locally controlled, and that’s something we’ve been fighting for.”
The RSD is scheduled to make three announcements Monday and Tuesday. The Andrew H. Wilson Charter School in Broadmoor and the Livingston campus in New Orleans East — which originally was going to house Miller-McCoy Academy — will get new operators along with John McDonogh.
The nonprofit charter board that governs Wilson could not get its charter renewed with the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Miller-McCoy voluntarily turned in its charter. And a group called Future Is Now relinquished John McDonogh last year.
In the cases of Wilson and Livingston, the buildings will be ready for new operators to occupy them this summer. The John McDonogh building is set for a full renovation that will keep the school closed until 2018.