Will the Last 5 Traditional Public Schools in New Orleans Become Charters?
On December 09, 2016, Danielle Dreilinger of nola.com published an article entitled, “Last 5 New Orleans Public Schools Expected to Become Charter Operations.”
As one might imagine, such a headline could be a surprise and a shock to teachers, parents, and students at the five Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) schools in question. The word I have from a teacher at one of the five schools affected is that it was a shock and that teachers from at least one of the schools found out about the chartering possibility just before Dreilinger’s article was published on the evening of December 9th.
The charter conversion “expectation” hinges upon the following sketchy details in the nola.com article:
Orleans Parish Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. announced Friday (Dec. 9) he had “received informal expressions of interest from current school and charter leaders to convert some or all of our remaining five network elementary and high schools to charter schools authorized by OPSB.”
The five schools currently under school board control this would affect: Ben Franklin Elementary, Eleanor McMain Secondary, Mahalia Jackson Elementary, Mary Bethune Elementary, and McDonogh No. 35, comprising a middle and high school. …
Lewis offered no further details, saying only, “We are beginning the process of informing school board members, staff, principals, teachers and families. When that process is completed early next week, we will be in a better position to provide more details.”
The School Board is scheduled to meet Tuesday [December 13, 2016].
The article hints at “interest from current school and charter leaders”; however, in the article, the public is offered no specifics regarding who these leaders are. Too, as cited in the article, Superintendent Henderson Lewis’ words about “informing” stakeholders and being “in a better position to provide more details…when the process is completed early next week” reads as if the decision to charter the five schools is a done deal made by some undefined “leaders,” which, interestingly, include “charter leaders.”
I watched the video segment of the Tuesday, December 13, 2016, OPSP school board meeting to hear just how done the chartering deal is for the five schools in question.
Based upon what Lewis said in that meeting, the chartering of the five schools does not appear to be a done deal at all.
Moreover, Lewis mentions that the chartering is the idea of the school principals, but he makes no mention of “charter leader” involvement. Lewis does say that he wants the process to occur in the public purview. If that is true and there are “charter leaders” involved, then he should clearly identify these individuals.
Since he invites community input, perhaps the stakeholders in this potential chartering venture could ask Lewis directly about the “charter leaders” hinted at in Dreilinger’s article.
Below is a partial transcript from the OPSB December 13, 2016, board meeting. From minute 5:33 to 9:17, Lewis addressed the issue of the last five traditional public schools converting to charter schools.
The full video of the December 13, 2016, OPSB board meeting can be found here.
[OPSB Superintendent Henderson Lewis speaking.]
I also want to take this opportunity this evening, I know there has been a lot of information in the media over the past week in reference to the transition of the network schools. And, my administration, in a statement that I have released, we have received some interest in our network schools transitioning from, if you would, traditional or direct-run schools to becoming Type 3 (school board authorized) charter schools. This interest has come from our network schools principals. I want everyone to know tonight that I have not received any formal proposals, so I can’t speak tonight about any particular program or proposal that is going to be moved forward to actually convert these schools from where they are today to charter schools.
I will say that my administration, as we receive the information, we will go through our standard process that we have in place that we follow through on every single year, and we will follow the state laws and guidelines that’s in place in reference to any school converting from its current state to a charter school.
I just want to remind everyone this evening we have charter schools within OPSB at this time. I’ll use Warren Easton, for example, Lusher, Audubon, the list goes on and on, where these schools were not, if you would, failing schools, and had the opportunity to transition from where they were to become charter schools.
Also, I have to say on this evening, as superintendent, of course, March will be two years, but when I first came in as superintendent, and in my very first principal meeting, and I believe, within the first five minutes of this meeting, I talked to the school leaders because, coming in to the position, I heard that some of my direct-run schools, if you would, were interested in chartering. So, I am a person who will go ahead and put whatever is out there on the table. And so, in the meeting, I did ask the principals, at that time, “Are you all trying to charter your school?” At that time, my principals said they were not, and my response to them was, “Because, if you are, I don’t want you to do that in secret. If you are, I need to know, and if that’s what you’re trying to do, I will help you get there.” And so, in OPSB, we have a process, and as superintendent, I will support the schools as they go through the process to be able to convert from their current state to a charter school, but again, there’s nothing that can be done at this time until we get formal notification that this is going to happen.
Now, someone may be saying, “Well, why are we having the conversation today if you don’t have a formal request?” Well, because principals were going to be having conversations within their schools. This administration, we want to be very, very transparent with the work that we’re doing because the chartering process says that the application for the normal chartering process must be turned in by January 27th. So, we could technically go through all of next month (January), have the board meeting, and then after the fact, be able to say we’ve received applications, but that’s not fair to our school community, nor our families, nor our parents. So, because we have this information, we want to go ahead and begin the process. Yesterday, our school leaders met with their faculties and staff; they send home letters to their parents; they’re scheduling parent meetings and will be going through a formal process, and then eventually, as superintendent, my team will receive proposals if they’re submitted. We’ll have a third party come in to evaluate those proposals. When the proposals are evaluated, the recommendations come in to me as the superintendent, and then I’ll bring recommendation to this full board for consideration on how to move forward.
And so, I just want to address that on this evening. This is not an action item, but because it has been in the media, I wanted to make sure I addressed it on this evening, and if anyone is in this audience on this evening and you would like to have your questions answered, my team is here. They certainly will be available after the meeting to answer any questions that you may have and also, that as we go through this process, if you have questions, we’re putting a mechanism in place where we’ll have meetings as well as opportunities for us to email us information directly. And so, I just wanted to address that on this evening since there is information in the media on the possible transition of our network schools.
The question remains: How much of this “possible transition” is a done deal and how much will genuinely be guided by the wishes of the community?
According to Lewis, he wants to hear from the stakeholders of the five schools, both in person and via email.
Stakeholders should take him at his word. As it stands, the process of converting an OPSB traditional school to a Type 3 (school board authorized) charter school appears to hinge heavily upon the preference of the school principal.
And perhaps upon some unnamed “charter leaders,” as well.