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NOLA’s Cypress Academy Charter School Rescued by (Wait for It) Local School Board

May 30, 2018

On May 22, 2018, I wrote a post entitled, “The Walmart-ization of Charter Schools: Goodbye, Little Fish,” about a small New Orleans charter school, Cypress Academy, that caught its parents completely off guard by announcing during the last week of school that the charter would be closing, not outright, but in a back-door way by being absorbed into a New Orleans charter chain operated by Choice Foundation.

Parents, who found out on May 20, 2018, about the closure, were told that they could attend “what next” meetings on May 22 and 23, 2018.

Prior to that first meeting, a number of parents drafted the following letter to Cypress Academy’s board, and, more importantly, to the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB), the local school board with the authority to intervene. As reported in the May 22, 2018, Lens:

Dear Board of Directors of Cypress Academy, members of the Orleans Parish School Board, and EnrollNOLA,

We are writing with regards to the “merger” of Cypress Academy with Lafayette Extension at Dunbar (aka the Choice Foundation). We, along with the staff of Cypress, received news of this three days before the end of school and a few days before the OneApp deadline for round two applications.

This has left families at Cypress, and incoming families, in shock. We are feeling many things — anger, disappointment, sadness, worry, and stress. We need more information, transparency, accountability, and assistance. We are all scrambling with what to do now.

The premise of school choice is that excellent school leaders and teachers can make a difference in our children’s education. So we “chose” this school because of that. And Cypress has pursued that, and have done so while opening their doors to a high number of kids with special needs and reading difficulties.

The message you are sending is that smaller schools like Cypress, that do the right thing — that provide real services to special needs students, that work to have inclusive classrooms, that work in good faith to create an environment that will effectively educate and serve all its students — will not survive.

Although this closure might not qualify as a “school closure” in your technical terms, it is to us. The only thing offered to us is a meeting Tuesday, May 22, at 7 p.m. at Cypress (2417 Orleans Ave.), to learn about Lafayette Academy Extension. We intend to use this forum to ask questions, get answers, and hear from you all — the people accountable for our children’s education.

We demand that you attend this meeting — we need you there. We ask you to arrive ready to listen to how this is impacting us and what our needs are in this process. We ask that you offer real solutions to this terrible situation in which you have put our families. (“Apply to Round 2 of OneApp!” is not a real solution.) We ask that you arrive with solutions for families of special needs students, and those with reading difficulties, many of whom are at Cypress specifically because they cannot get their children’s needs met elsewhere. We need you to be accountable and transparent about this decision and this process.

And we need you to answer some of our most pressing questions:

What can OPSB and the Cypress Board do to prevent this closure from happening/reversing the decision? What would be needed for this NOT to happen?

How did this happen with no public process?

What is the legality of this dramatic decision?

How will OPSB and EnrollNOLA support families in school choice/placement that will actually meet their needs, given this extraordinary timing and circumstance?

What will OPSB ask of other schools in terms of accepting Cypress students/creating the seats necessary to absorb them?

Cypress Academy proactively welcomed students with a broad range of disabilities and invested in the resources required to meet their needs. Students with disabilities and their families chose Cypress partly due to the “pull” of Cypress as a welcoming and accommodating school and also due to the “push” of other schools that were unwilling or unable to meet their needs. In this way, Cypress is subsidizing costs that should be borne across the schools.

What actions are the School Board taking to ensure that all schools under its supervision have the resources needed and the willingness to address the needs of all Orleans Parish students, regardless of ability?

Sincerely,

Concerned Cypress families and stakeholders
Shana Sassoon
Cassie Seiple
Abram Himelstein
Valentina Lostalo
Gene Meneray
Amanda Barre Kogos

This letter represents the ugly underbelly of school choice, which choice zealots like US ed sec Betsy DeVos never acknowledges.

As it turns out (and as the Lens once again reports), OPSB tactfully overrode the Walmart-styled absorption of Cypress Academy into a Choice Foundation-run school. OPSB decided to assume operation of Cypress Academy initially for one year, but OPSB later decided to operate the school for two years “if no group charters it.”

Even though Cypress Academy parents will not need to try to scramble to find another school for their children at the last minute, the OPSB takeover could entail requiring all Cypress Academy teachers to reapply for their jobs, though this point remains unclear. So, parents are rightly wondering the degree to which OPSB-run Cypress Academy will be the same Cypress Academy that it was prior to the May 20, 2018-initiated chaos. As the Lens succinctly notes, “It’s unclear whether the school’s curriculum will remain after the school district takes it over.”

School choice is messy. From the Lens’ May 23, 2018, update:

After a meeting at Cypress on Thursday, where the school’s new leader was announced, parents stayed after to lay out what they wanted from the district. They asked for a response in writing, which [OPSB superintendent Henderson] Lewis sent today.

Some parents wanted to govern the school alongside the district, but the district said two governing boards would be too complicated.

The district promises any decision to close the school after the 2019-20 school year would be made by that Thanksgiving. In that case, parents would receive priority in the citywide enrollment lottery for the following school year.

Because the school will be run directly by the district, any group that wants to take it over would have to do so as a conversion charter. It will be up to the school district to decide whether to make that contingent on a vote by parents and staff. The district has required such votes in the past, but not recently.

What this situation demonstrates is that when the card stack of the New Orleans school choice miracle experiences the inevitable puff of wind, chaos control toward preserving the faltering charter school is best effected by a local, elected school board.

house of cards

It is refreshing to see the OPSB superintendent and board engaging in a dialogue/negotiation with Cypress Academy parents.

Even so, I wonder what it would take for that local board to completely forego a charter operator and pursue the non-market option of directly running the school, period. OPSB does have that power.

hitting head on wall

“O, market forces, why forsaketh thou me?”

_________________________________________________________________________________

Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

3 Comments
  1. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    It is complicated and your images summarize the narrative. Who controls decisions about schools has never been so complicated and loaded with behind-the-curtain pullers of strings.

  2. Victoria Shanahan permalink

    It amazes me that such a successful school could ever face the chaos it has endured in the past several weeks…such a travesty. The students, parents and teachers certainly deserved much, much better treatment. Wake up, OPSB…celebrate success, not attempt to destroy it.

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