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Orleans Parish School Board superintendent of schools Dr. Henderson Lewis Jr. speaks during a press conference in New Orleans, La., Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018.

Rather than revoking the contracts of four F-rated charter schools, Orleans Parish schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. and his team have elected to work with the schools to try to improve their academics through school-authored improvement plans, documents show.

The improvement plans, which were developed over the past year by the schools' leaders and shared with parents in January and February, aim to make changes such as adding positions or switching to different curricula in order to stave off potential closure.

Lewis, who is in his first year running the newly unified Orleans Parish school district, has the right to revoke charters and close F-rated schools under the district's rules for holding charter schools accountable for students' performance. But he can also give those schools an additional year to raise their grades by requiring them to develop and implement improvement plans.

Of the city’s 86 public schools, 11 received an F from the state in the 2018 annual ratings, which are based largely on standardized tests.

Of the F-rated schools, four are working under the school improvement plans. Three others are closing this summer. The rest are alternative schools — often used for students who have been expelled from other schools — which are given more flexibility on their state grades.

The three schools that are closing received an F in the last year of their charter contract, which is widely seen as a crucial year to demonstrate performance as district officials decide on whether to renew the charter.

The four targeted for improvement, rather than immediate closure, are Robert Mussa Moton Charter, Joseph A. Craig Charter, James M. Singleton Charter and Landry-Walker High schools.

Like nearly all New Orleans schools, all four are charters. At the end of this school year, New Orleans is set to become the nation's first major city without any traditional, district-run public schools.

If the schools don’t improve their letter grade, they will automatically face closure proceedings next year, according to district policy. Schools that get an F two years in a row go through the district’s charter revocation process. 

Together, the four schools had a combined enrollment of 2,148 students as of October.

The Orleans Parish School Board did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

District leaders met with families at the four schools in January and February to introduce the improvement plans. The Lens obtained copies of the plans through a public records request.

The plans were developed by school leaders based on the problems they believed were leading to their low performance ratings, and they vary widely in their detail and proposed solutions.

The one-page plan for Craig Charter School in Treme, for instance, said it will switch to a new curriculum as the state recommends and noted that the elementary school serves a population of students from low-income households.

“Test scores and poverty are intertwined, a fact that should always be considered in high poverty schools such as Joseph A. Craig,” the unsigned letter stated.

Of the four schools, only Craig is up for charter renewal next year. Students can still enroll at Craig for this fall, a district official confirmed.

Craig's plan lists six bullet points as potential solutions to help boost scores on state standardized tests.

The plan for Moton Charter is more detailed, identifying more than a dozen weaknesses, solutions and expected outcomes.

Terri Williams, Moton's principal since last year, said the elementary school was already at work identifying problems last school year after three years of declining school performance scores.

“Moton’s transformation plan was already in action five months before the district and state’s required meeting with the superintendent in February,” Williams wrote in a statement provided to The Lens.

The eastern New Orleans school has been under scrutiny for failing to identify students with disabilities and provide them with the extra help required by law. The latter failing resulted in a revocation hearing and an “intensive corrective action plan,” an action taken for specific policy violations, as opposed to the more general improvement plans. The district said Moton completed its corrective action plan.

The school’s improvement plan states it increased staffing by 50 percent.

At Singleton Charter School, in Central City, staff are also working to execute their improvement plan, CEO Doug Evans said.

“The most important element to focus on is student growth,” Evans wrote in a statement provided to The Lens.

Evans took over after Singleton’s prior CEO stepped down and four school employees were fired because of systemic testing irregularities in early 2018. The state later dropped the school’s official 2017 letter grade from a C to a D.

Singleton’s improvement plan includes specific suggestions to teachers to actively monitor students, such as not reteaching individual students during a lesson.

“The teacher should be understanding and sympathetic to those who do not understand but should NOT stop to teach a student who has made an error,” the plan states. “If the teacher re-teaches students individually, students will learn that they don’t have to pay attention in class during instruction because the teacher will help them individually."

However, it says, “If three or more students have the same error, the teacher should immediately stop the class and provide a whole-group correction.”

Landry-Walker High School, the school created from the 2013 combination of Algiers rivals O. Perry Walker High School and L.B. Landry High School, has seen its performance slide for several years following a 2014 investigation into its test results.

In 2013, the newly created charter high school received a B letter grade and a 10-year charter contract. But the next year, a jump in test scores resulted in an internal investigation that revealed major discrepancies between classroom performance and performance on state standardized tests. Eventually, that information was sent to the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office.

Landry-Walker’s improvement plan includes a decision to require school staff to reapply for their jobs at all Algiers Charter network schools, something the network had already announced. Algiers Charter runs four schools including Landry-Walker. Two of those schools are in the final year of their charter contracts and are closing for failing performance.

Algiers Charter did not respond to a request for comment.