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The New Orleans Charter Fiasco Train: Add Another Car

July 27, 2019

If you want to read about one charter fiasco after another, look no farther than New Orleans.

In December 2018, I wrote a post about the issues facing the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) and its superintendent, Henderson Lewis. As of May 2016, the New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) began the process of being dissolved, with RSD charters being transferred to the jurisdiction of OPSB. (All-charter OPSB has since been renamed “NOLA Public Schools.”)

Lewis and OPSB/NOLA Public Schools are increasingly finding themselves in the position of chaos clean-up. From my December 2018 post, including my quoting from the Lens:

It seems that Orleans Parish Schools superintendent Henderson Lewis has his hands full in dealing with New Orleans charter schools that find themselves in fiscal trouble.

As the November 13, 2018, New Orleans Lens reports, Lewis has decided to close three charter schools “in the past six months,” and he threatened to close two others “last year”:

Orleans Parish schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. will seek to revoke Edgar P. Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy’s charter mid-year after financial mismanagement and leadership instability, he told Orleans Parish School Board committee members at a Tuesday meeting. …

Last year, the district began the charter revocation process at two Einstein Charter Schools after the Einstein charter network refused to provide bus service to elementary students. … Einstein ultimately moved to hire a bus company. …

Lewis announced his intention to close Cypress Academy this week. The school had been taken over by the district in May after its former charter board made the surprise decision to close due to financial problems. And last month, Crescent Leadership Academy, the city’s only alternative program that served middle school students, abruptly closed.

The Lens article continues with Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) member Ben Kleban’s concern about OPSB ability to respond to “emergency situations” (i.e., OPSB takeover of charter schools in violation of their charters, including fiscal mismanagement/impropriety), particularly since such situations were not “anticipated in the board-approved budget.”

Clean up on Aisle *New Orleans Miracle.*

But wait– there’s more.

OPSB/NOLA Public Schools is still involved in the Kennedy High School grade-fixing fiasco that resulted in over half of its Class of 2019 being allowed to graduate without sufficient completion of neccessary requirements, including having legitimate passing grades and state test scores. One parent has filed a lawsuit that could well become a class action. In June 2019, Lewis called for all New Orleans high schools to have their grades audited and asked the state to conduct a criminal investigation into the situation.

And now, there’s Mary Coghill charter school, which is operated by the Better Choice Foundation.

Where to begin?

The Coghill situation came to my attention through this July 26, 2019, WDSU clip about a Coghill parent who was told that her child could be promoted into high school via completion of a program Coghill offered and which was supposed to help struggling students get back on track. From the WDSU piece:

A mother is trying to figure out where her child will be attending school.

Her student signed up for a social promotion program that, when completed, would put them in their correct grade.

School starts in two weeks, and the family is still waiting for the final results.

Coghill Charter is the only school under the direction of the Better Choice Foundation.

Tamare Bush is worried about her son’s future. He is currently in seventh grade at Coghill Charter but is behind due to health issues that caused him to miss several days of school.

Bush was told about Project Success, a social promotion program that would get kids like hers into their right grades after attending all classes and passing the intensive course and standardized tests. The program started in Fall 2018 and concluded earlier this summer. …

She was recently contacted via email by the school principal, Pamela Marshall, who said all students completed the coursework and will be promoted. …

Bush was told not to try to register her child for high school, and that Coghill would do it for her. When she contacted the high school directly, she was told they had no knowledge of the Project Success Program and that the school was completely full for the fall.

Now, the next bit of news is not encouraging at all: NOLA Public Schools has no idea about such a program:

WDSU also received a statement from Dr. Kellie Peterson of NOLA Public Schools. She released this statement:

We were informed of this program yesterday, and we are in the process of gathering additional information to better understand school programming and communication with families.

It turns out that this Coghill *program that might not be a legitimate program* isn’t all that has been in the news about problems at Coghill of late. The July 25, 2019, Lens succinctly sums up other details of the mounting Coghill mega-fiasco in an article entitled, “Coghill Board Member Directs Staff Not to Give F’s”:

A Mary D. Coghill Charter School board member told school employees via email they could not give students a final grade of less than a ‘D’ to end the semester or year. It’s unclear how many students may have been affected, but New Orleans school district officials aren’t pleased with the board member for what they say is overstepping his role.

Kelli Peterson, senior equity and accountability officer at NOLA Public Schools — the recently rebranded name for the Orleans Parish school district — issued a so-called “level 1” notice of non-compliance to Better Choice Foundation, which runs the Gentilly Woods elementary school, on June 3.

According to Peterson, board member Eric Jones emailed “Coghill faculty and staff stating that based on board policy, a scholar should not receive less than a grade D on their end of quarter or semester grade.” …

State law allows other individuals, such as school principals or other administrators, to change a teacher’s grade “only upon it being determined that the grade is an error or that the grade is demonstrably inconsistent with the teacher’s grading policy.” …

The Coghill grade directive warning may have contributed to an escalated “level two” warning issued later in June. That letter said that the district had “previously cited Better Choice Foundation regarding its board members involvement in daily activities at the school.”

“A charter board is tasked with governing a charter school, not running the school’s daily operations,” Peterson’s June 28 level two warning said.

That letter also detailed financial management concerns at the school. Those included potentially inappropriate reimbursements to Jones — the same board member who sent the email banning failing grades — as well as a computer purchase using federal funding that violated board policy, teacher appreciation day expenses of $8,709 and violations of district policy regarding alcohol consumption.

And so, we’ll leave it there for now.

Enough *miracle* for one day.

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Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

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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.

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