Parents search for new schools

In an effort to help parents find new schools for their children, the Recovery School District held informational meetings Wednesday night at two schools that will close at the end of this school year, James Weldon Johnson Elementary in the Leonidas neighborhood and Murray Henderson Elementary in Algiers.

According to the RSD, the primary factor in the decision-making to close Johnson involves the district’s goals to “right-size.”

“We believe that there are high-performing school options available for all students currently attending Johnson for next year,” the RSD stated on an information sheet provided to parents.

Johnson students will be guaranteed a seat at Benjamin Banneker Elementary, which is a little over a mile away at 421 Burdette St. in the Riverbend area. The Johnson facility, 1800 Monroe St., will likely become a temporary space for students from another campus, according to the RSD.

Some teachers at the meeting, who for now have unknown futures, questioned why it’s an improvement to send the kids to Banneker. Both schools received a letter grade of F for their 2012 School Performance Scores.

For grandmother Darlene Tolbert, Banneker was not an option — she said she would hope to get her granddaughter into another school where her cousin attended. But she was saddened, She said her granddaughter Jashell Davis, a pre-K student, loved her teacher, was learning and had just been chosen as student of the month.

Johnson pre-K teacher Harriet Welch said that although there had been rumors for more than a year, teachers officially found out about the school’s fate right before Christmas break. She said she cried. “I love teaching — I hope to regain a position as a teacher,” she said. She said Johnson is a “good school with good caring teachers,” and test scores she thought were likely higher than at Banneker.

RSD Deputy Superintendent Dana Peterson said that meetings will be held to provide support to the teachers and staff who will be out of a job as a result of the closures. “There will always be a demand for great teachers,” Peterson said.

Across the river at Henderson, all current students will be guaranteed a seat at Paul B. Habans Elementary school, 3819 Hershel St. Habans is directly run by the RSD and next year will be run by the Crescent City Schools Charter Management Organization.

The RSD said that the decision to close Henderson was based on the following factors: First, that enrollment needs on the West Bank currently support one school — part of the “right-sizing.” In addition, the Henderson facility, 2701 Lawrence St., is leased from the archdiocese. It was determined that Habans facility was a better choice to sustain, the RSD said. Habans is designated to have a new facility built under the School Facilities Master Plan. The Henderson lease will expire in June and won’t be renewed.

For Habans’ new management, the RSD said that Crescent City Schools has “shown the ability to quickly improve student achievement in its schools.” The organization took over Harriet Tubman Charter School in 2011 and Akili Academy in 2012.

Education activist Ernest Charles said that he is frustrated with the constant change students are forced to endure. “One thing children have got to have to learn is consistency,” he said.

Charles also said he did not believe that the RSD had engaged the community in many recent changes at numerous schools across the city.

Peterson said it was a tough decision to close any school, and it wasn’t a decision taken lightly.

There are three family resource centers in New Orleans where parents can go for assistance in enrolling their children in new schools. They are open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and are located at Crocker Arts and Technology School, 2300 General Taylor St.; Mary D. Coghill School, 4617 Mirabeau Ave.; and L.B. Landry High School, 1200 L.B. Landry Ave. Parents with questions can also call the RSD at 1 (877) 343-4773 or visit http://www.rsdenrollment.org.

The “OneApp” single enrollment application, which includes all RSD schools and all direct-run OPSB schools (not OPSB charters) will be released next week. Applications are due March 15.