RSD’s Dobard details changes

Recovery School District Superintendent Patrick Dobard presented a number of changes at RSD-run schools, including some closings, that will go into effect for the 2013-2014 school year at a news conference Thursday.

“We transform schools by giving parents high-quality choices,’’Dobard said. “We want educators to have the most autonomy to run their schools, and then we hold all parties accountable to ensure that all of our students are ready for both college and career.”

The RSD by design is not meant to run schools indefinitely, Dobard said. “Our success is measured by literally working ourselves out of a job.”

The event was hosted by Mary D. Coghill Elementary School, a school whose principal, Aisha Jones, Dobard heralded as “everything we want from our system.” Dobard described Jones as a “great example of a veteran educator . . . who worked with the community, had a successful application that was approved in the process that we put in place, and now she’s going to go from a direct-run campus . . . to transforming and running her own school.”

Dobard cited three reasons for the upcoming changes: holding charter schools that did not meet minimum standards accountable, empowering “proven educators” to transform schools and “right-sizing our system to ensure long-term stability.”

Dobard listed the following changes: Crocker Arts and Technology will now be managed by New Orleans College Prep. Pride College Prep will be managed by Arise Charter. Intercultural Charter School will be an open-enrollment elementary school at the Intercultual campus, and all current students will be guaranteed a spot. Benjamin Mays Preparatory will close, and all current students will be given priority in the enrollment process. Coghill will be managed by the Better Choice Foundation. Murray Henderson will close, and all its students will be guaranteed a seat at Paul B. Habans Elementary, which will be managed by Crescent City Schools.

L.B. Landry and O. Perry Walker High Schools will be unified under the management of the Algiers Charter School Association, and all students will be guaranteed a seat. H.C. Schaumburg Elementary will be managed by ReNEW Charter Management. Abramson Elementary will close, and all its students will be guaranteed a seat at Schaumburg. James W. Johnson Elementary will close, and all its students will be guaranteed a seat at Banneker Elementary.

But not everyone affected by the changes shared Dobard’s sentiments.

On Wednesday night in Algiers, opponents of the Landry-Walker merger met to present alternatives to combining the two schools. Members of both communities have fought the unification decision.

The meeting’s organizers invited the RSD to send a representative, said Landry supporter Ken Grooms, but no one showed up.

On Thursday afternoon in front of the RSD central offices, a small but passionate group stood in the cold wind to let it be known that they were unhappy with some changes.

Meagan McKinnon, a senior at Walter L. Cohen High School, a school in the process of being phased out, said that she has had four math teachers just this year, and for two weeks there was no math teacher. She said there are classes of 26 kids with 10 books, and teachers with “five weeks training who are unqualified.” She also said kids are being “suspended like crazy,” and often for minor offenses she said are simply misunderstood by new, young, teachers from out of state.

Dobard noted that the “aggressive” changes would not be popular with everyone. But he said there was a lack of change in the system before Hurricane Katrina, and more stability would come in the next year of two. He also said there would be conversations with students and families to help the transitions go more smoothly.

Urban League Executive Vice President Erika McConduit acknowledged that for many, “this is going to be hard.” She said there were resources available for parents to help guide them through the process, and emphasized that the Urban League is a neutral entity in providing parents and families with the best information about all the opportunities that exist for their children.

But some students aren’t happy about being caught in the middle of the aggressive and sweeping changes. McKinnon is part of a newly formed coalition of students from four schools undergoing major changes called United Students of New Orleans.

Terrell Major, another senior at Cohen, said that he feels the decision-makers “have their own agenda — and with or without you they will complete their agenda.” Major said the one of the most difficult challenges is the inconsistency in staff and administration. “You can’t expect us to grow and develop with all these changes,” he said.