Military charter school moves step closer to permanent home

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER --  U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., with the help of Gen. Steven Hummer of the Marines, throws the lever on the back of a concrete truck Monday to mark the start of construction of the new New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy Charter School Complex in Algiers. The  new $17 million project, which will include new construction as well as the renovation of existing historical buildings, is expected to be completed in January. Students currently attend classes in the old Navy Exchange site, just steps away from the new construction.
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., with the help of Gen. Steven Hummer of the Marines, throws the lever on the back of a concrete truck Monday to mark the start of construction of the new New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy Charter School Complex in Algiers. The new $17 million project, which will include new construction as well as the renovation of existing historical buildings, is expected to be completed in January. Students currently attend classes in the old Navy Exchange site, just steps away from the new construction.

Project costs $17 million

The New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy Charter High School, the first in the nation to combine a public charter high school model with a military focus, is a step closer to moving into its permanent home in Algiers.

On Monday, a ground-breaking event celebrated the school’s new $17 million facilities in Federal City as U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and a host of other officials assisted in a ceremonial concrete pour at the site where construction has been under way for about two months.

The campus will include a new building flanked by two historic buildings that were built in the early 1900s and are undergoing major renovation. Construction is estimated to be complete by January.

Marine Corps Col. Bill Davis, the school’s commandant, said they will move in just as soon as it’s ready — ideally over the Christmas break.

In 2011, NOMMA opened at the shuttered Murray Henderson Elementary School with a ninth-grade class. This year, it moved to the old Navy Exchange site with ninth- and 10th-grade classes. The school has about 220 cadets and will add another grade next year. So far, about 140 students are enrolled for the 2013-2014 academic year, Davis said.

About 17 percent of the current students are from military families, he said, with 20 percent of the space set aside for military dependents.

NOMMA is a type 2 charter school that enrolls students from all over the state and is overseen directly by the state Board of Secondary and Elementary Education.

Davis said he gets calls from military families all over the world who want to see if they can enroll their children upon finding out they will be stationed in New Orleans.

While participation in Marine Corps Junior ROTC is mandatory, military service after graduation is not a requirement.

“Whether or not they choose to enter the military, instilled in each one are values of honor, courage, commitment, leadership and service,” said Lt. Gen. Steven Hummer, commander of the Marine Forces Reserves.

The school serves military families but also will build the military of the future, said Norma Grace, a board member of the The New Orleans Federal Alliance.

New Orleans City Council member Jackie Clarkson talked about the city’s military history, and the school finally coming to fruition after decades in the making. Discussions about starting a military academy were first initiated after World War II.

Council member Kristin Gisleson Palmer talked about the other improvements being made in the vicinity, including the bike path along the levee and the repairs to Patterson Road. Palmer also noted that “None of this would be possible without the public/private partnerships.”

Landrieu spoke about replacing the city’s failing school system over the past eight years with a new “extraordinary and excellent system,” and the leadership of former Recovery School District superintendent Paul Vallas, who also attended the ground breaking.

The unprecedented lump sum of $1.8 billion in Federal Emergency Management Agency money was intended to bring innovative schools like NOMMA to New Orleans, Landrieu said. She described the city’s nearly all-charter public school system as a turnaround model, not just for the country but for the world.

Retired Marine Corps Col. Terry Ebbert, president of the school’s board of directors, lauded the school for building the leaders of tomorrow and for its diversity in crossing all socioeconomic, racial, and geographical boundaries.

Six other similar schools are being built around the country, said Bill McHenry, national JROTC program director for the Marine Corps.

He described some of the school’s unique attributes, such as the highly qualified teachers who also serve as adjunct professors, the diversity of the faculty and student body and cohorting the students — keeping them with the same class throughout their high school career.

NOMMA will be hosting an open house for prospective ninth- to 11th-grade students from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. April 29 at 2000 Opelousas Ave, Building H-100, Algiers.