Orleans Parish school district has plan for oversight of all schools, charters included

Orleans Parish school district has plan for oversight over all schools, charters included

Eleven years post-Hurricane Katrina, the superintendent of the city's public schools says the school district is prepared for a giant step.

"We are ready," said Superintendent Henderson Lewis.

After Katrina swamped the city, the Recovery School District took control of nearly all of the city's public schools and turned them over to charter entities.  Now state law allows for all public schools in the city to be unified under local oversight.

"With the Recovery School District and OPSB we have two different sets of framework that we're following, and sometimes, I'll have to be honest, for our families it's confusing with the two systems. So as we unify our school district, all schools will be under the same guidelines, all under the authority of the Orleans Parish School Board," said Lewis.

Still, charter schools will not lose their autonomy.

"Even though the schools are autonomous, we have a responsibility to our public to make sure that schools are continuing to improve and get better," Lewis said.

The unified oversight must happen by July 1, 2018.

Supt. Lewis promises a lean central office. His staff said there is $20 million budget for the 2018-2019 school year.

"The majority of the state and local dollars that we receive for public education here in New Orleans, the majority of the money, except about 4 percent, goes directly to schools, and so this 4 percent is about $20 million," he said.

The change will not mean that the Recovery School District created by the state soon after Hurricane Katrina will be dismantled.

"The RSD will continue to be in existence as we have almost 10 schools in Baton Rouge, we have a school in Shreveport and there are still a number of academically struggling schools around the state," said RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard.

Some believe the plan does not reflect or address enough community concerns.

"We're always hopeful, but there is nothing in this new transition plan that's going to hold schools accountable to community and parents, which is very disheartening," said Ashana Bigard, a concerned parent and education advocate. "They got air-conditioned buildings, but what's happening in the buildings isn't that progressive. You look at the schools on the waiting list like Audubon Montessori, Lusher, we don't see a lot of duplication of those models that everyone's asking for. I think it's really frustrating the parents in the city."

She said even before schools were rebuilt, many pushed for swimming pools to be added to all schools and swimming be added to the curriculum given the number of residents of the city who drowned during Katrina's floodwaters. But she said that did not happen.

Still, Bigard said she and others will continue to push for responses they seek.

"It's about us putting pressure on the school board members and the school board members putting pressure on the charter schools," she said.

In the past, local charter schools were accused of cherry-picking students. Lewis said the EnrollNOLA plan that is in place largely addresses those concerns.

"Once students are assigned...then as educators we are required to go ahead and make sure we provide the best possible education for all those students. So when it comes down to cherry-picking, hand-picking and all of those things, through our common enrollment system, it has taken care of that thought that's out there," he said.

The school board voted unanimously on the unification transition plan Tuesday evening during its meeting at McDonogh 35 High School. In all, about 77 schools will fall under the OPSB's oversight in less than two years.

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