District to shutter Abramson Elementary

Abramson Elementary School, which was taken over by the Recovery School District in summer 2011 amid a scandal involving the former charter operator and allegations of cheating, sexual misconduct and bribery, will close after the end of the school year.

The Abramson Science and Technology Charter School, a high school, was run directly by the RSD for one year before it was shut down last year.

The charter contract for both schools was revoked from the Pelican Educational Foundation shortly before the beginning of the 2011 school year.

According to the RSD, the decision to close Abramson Elementary School is part of the district’s plans to “right-size” the system.

RSD Communications Director Zoey Reed said the district took into account the fact that Abramson is located on a modular campus, and that H.C. Schaumburg Elementary School is a new facility with excess capacity that is located near Abramson.

A meeting held Tuesday night provided answers for parents and resources to guide them through the process of finding a new school.

All Abramson students are guaranteed a seat at Schaumburg, where a simultaneous meeting was held to detail the changes of Schaumburg moving from being a direct-run RSD school to being run by the ReNEW Charter Management organization.

ReNEW runs Batiste Cultural Arts Academy, SciTech Academy, Reed/Little Woods Elementary and New Orleans Accelerated High School.

Jacob Cohen, who is the assistant director of Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association and works closely with students in eastern New Orleans, said the educational landscape in the neighborhood is troubling.

In the Michoud area, where his organization is located, Cohen said, two of the three closest elementary schools are shutting down — Abramson and Intercultural Charter School. Two of the three closest high schools have been shut down or are in the process of being phased out.

Cohen acknowledges that several years down the road the success of the closures and reforms may be evident, but he said he worries about the families caught in the middle.

“They have been forced to endure chaos and instability, passed from sinking ship to sinking ship,” Cohen said. “How will these children be repaid?”

Once families get wind of closures, they often pull their kids out, Cohen said. However, with a large Vietnamese population and growing Latino population in eastern New Orleans, Cohen said, families with language barriers often get left behind.

And while there is an emphasis on school choice in the district, Cohen said many of the students he works with say it is not easy to travel to schools in other parts of the city — often with commutes that can last between one and two hours each way and limited bus service that can preclude kids from being involved in after-school activities.

Emmanuel Chavez, a senior at Sarah T. Reed High School, a school in eastern New Orleans that is being phased out, said going to school in another part of the city wasn’t an option for him because he has to be home to help his mother take care of his siblings.

Chavez was at the Abramson high school before it shut down, and he said switching from one school that closed to another that is closing has been difficult and stressful.

In the second semester at Abramson, Chavez said, those students who were able to leave went elsewhere, but he said he was not aware of the decision to close the school until February. He said his class of about 40 students decreased to 12.

Chavez said the faculty was still there, but that aside from his basic core classes he was put into classes called “support studies” in which all he did was wait around for teachers to give him jobs. He called it “the most useless class” and said there weren’t any other options.

Cohen called the results of the RSD takeover after the charter revocation “disastrous” and said both the elementary school and high school became an “incredibly high-need, under-resourced environment.”

Many students who weren’t achieving at other schools ended up at Abramson, he said.

“The tragedy of Abramson is that a low-capacity, short-term school ended up housing one of the highest-need student populations in the city,” he said.

While the elementary students leaving are likely to find more stability and permanent schools as there are fewer changes in coming years, Chavez said that as a high school student nearing graduation, the change was very stressful, and his family considered moving because of the turmoil.

“It takes a lot of time to adjust,” he said.