BESE gets earful in New Orleans on proposed Landry, Walker unification

Debate on the controversial decision to unite L.B. Landry and O. Perry Walker High Schools under the new name “Landry-Walker’’ consumed much of Wednesday night’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting on RSD matters.

The issue boiled up as the board considered appointment of members to the Master Plan Oversight Committee, as well as in discussion of the new streamlined OneApp enrollment process.

Derek “Coach Skip” LaMothe pointed out that on page 15 of the OneApp, the “Landry -Walker School” is listed only with Walker’s School Performance Score. In the recently published Parents’ Guide to Public Schools, the only school included is Walker, with the location listed as the Landry campus.

“Algiers doesn’t have a problem with the merger — they have a problem with a takeover,” LaMothe said.

In the School Facilities Master Plan, revised in 2011, the plan calls for two high schools on the West Bank based on projected demographics.

Currently there are three. In phase I of the plan, a new Landry building was completed. Phase II calls for a new building for Edna Karr with a projected 2015 completion date.

According to the document, “The plan does not eliminate the Walker building, but the RSD and the community will need to develop a solution that uses new high school facilities to provide the best school options for West Bank high school students.”

For several years, the RSD and Algiers Charter School Association have faced significant push back at community meetings from supporters of both schools who are unhappy with plans to move the Walker program into the Landry building and combine the names.

RSD and ACSA officials have consistently said that they are simply implementing the dictates outlined in the Master Plan, which was approved by the OPSB and BESE.

LaMothe said there was a parent at the meeting whose son had been shot in the leg because of a dispute related to the impending merger.

“If you do this process right and get advice from the community, then violence won’t happen. Now it’s gotten violent,” he said. LaMothe said he had been trying to tell the education administrators about the concerns for years and that the shooting wasn’t the first incident of related gun violence but the third.

“Are you aware that the community is totally opposed to the merger?” LaMothe asked the board.

“Why not close O. Perry Walker?” asked Torrance Boseman. “You have pitted the community against each other,” he said.

“If you merge the two schools the long way without the community there will be more bloodshed,” the Rev. Raynard Casimier said.

Dana Peterson, RSD deputy superintendent, said that they are combining Landry’s state-of-the-art facility with Walker’s successful program.

Hill said she wanted to see the RSD’s plan for the unification. BESE member Holly Boffy and Kira Orange Jones asked Casimier and the other concerned community members to keep them updated to ensure the process goes smoothly.

Casimier recommended that they not change the school’s name or school’s colors. In terms of Landry being a failing school, Casimier told the board that because the school has only been open for three years, it technically should not yet have a score. He noted that further contention comes from Walker’s namesake being a slave owner and the fact that the schools are major rivals. He also suggested getting the right people from the community—and parental involvement—to “mesh the kids.”

“We do take this seriously,” Boffy said.

On Thursday, LaMothe said that he had spoken with BESE members about holding a town hall meeting in coming weeks.

There was much confusion at the meeting surrounding the discussion of the Master Plan Oversight Committee.

No one in the room, including numerous RSD and BESE officials, knew when the last meeting was held, when the next meeting was scheduled or who was responsible for scheduling meetings.

“By not making anyone do anything — no one is doing anything,” BESE member Connie Bradford said, after the board was informed that the MPOC was an independent body.

With that, a discussion began about who is allowed to appoint new members, and the role and powers of the board.

Orange Jones expressed interest in being on the board along with BESE member James Garvey.

At the OPSB’s February meeting, three nominees were approved to replace resigning members of the oversight committee: Jim Alack, Michael Siegel and Nolan Marshall, Jr. OPSB member Marshall was nominated to replace former OPSB member Lourdes Moran. BESE approved the appointments.

On Thursday, OPSB board member Woody Koppel said that vacancies on the oversight committee needed to be filled for a quorum but that progress of projects in the plan are monitored monthly at OPSB committee meetings, RSD meetings and through updates from Jacobs Engineering, which was hired by OPSB and RSD to carry out the master plan.

Koppel said that the board was created to have more of an advisory role rather than to be a decision-making entity.

Heather Cope, BESE executive director, said that BESE members are welcome to attend but that an effort was made to fill the board with accountants, contractors and other community members in order to use their expertise to advise BESE and OPSB.

Cope suggested they “hold off” on Orange-Jones’ appointment.