Louisiana’s Recovery School District plans to choose an operator for John McDonogh High School in New Orleans by the end of the month, Deputy Superintendent Dana Peterson said. The Esplanade Ridge institution shut down last summer, and its building is awaiting a gut renovation.
Six organizations have applied to take over: Bricolage Academy, Encore Academy, FirstLine Schools, KIPP New Orleans, the Linda School and Morris Jeff Community School.
The Recovery system is moving ahead in spite of a looming court dispute over whether it has the authority to make the decision. The Orleans Parish School Board is suing, saying that once a state takeover charter such as John Mac closes, the state must return the building to the local school system. The Recovery system took over 80 percent of the city’s public schools after Hurricane Katrina.
A John Mac advocacy group says the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education should decide what happens with John Mac. The state board requested an attorney general’s opinion on the matter, but none has been released.
The Recovery system’s scoring rubric gives the most weight to the performance of the schools applicants already run. John Mac need not stay a high school; in fact, priority is given to applications that don’t increase the overall stock of high school seats. The school must provide free transportation, participate in the centralized OneApp enrollment system and be open to any student, with no entrance requirements.
Perhaps the most notable application comes from KIPP, which would move its flagship school, KIPP Believe, to the John Mac building. The current long-term plan for KIPP Believe, which splits the grades between the James Weldon Johnson and Ronald McNair elementary buildings in Carrollton, is a compromise, reached after Hollygrove neighbors objected to the Recovery School District’s plan to put that school in the former Dunbar Elementary building. Moving KIPP Believe into John Mac could save the Recovery system money because it would no longer have to renovate McNair.
KIPP’s application says more than half the current Believe students, and more than 2,000 KIPP New Orleans students, live in or adjacent to John Mac’s zip code. Some Believe parents have formed a John McDonogh outreach committee, officials say.
Two other applicants want to move existing schools into John Mac:
- Bricolage Academy has a locally unique curriculum focusing on engineering and creativity. The two-year-old charter currently has only kindergarten and first grade, but it plans to run through eighth grade by 2019. Its vision for John Mac includes a public “maker space” laboratory for local “inventors and creatives” to put together projects. Bricolage families collected 573 signatures of support from Esplanade Ridge neighbors.
- The FirstLine charter network proposes to relocate Joseph Clark Prep, a high school just blocks down Esplanade Avenue. A letter from Clark’s community steering group says it urged FirstLine to apply. FirstLine’s letter emphasizes Clark’s NOLA Tech vocational program, which lets students graduate with a Delgado Community College certification in high-demand industries such as industrial construction.
Morris Jeff wants to expand upward from an elementary and middle school into the upper grades, offering an International Baccalaureate diploma. Grades six through 12 would be at John Mac, while pre-kindergarten through fifth grades remained at the school’s new Mid-City building. School administrators said almost all the Morris Jeff families who responded to a survey were at least somewhat interested in a Morris Jeff High, with two thirds “very” interested. The dean of the University of New Orleans College of Education wrote a letter of support.
The last two applicants propose to start entirely new schools.
- Encore Academy, an arts-focused elementary and middle school, wants to replicate its model in a pre-kindergarten through 12th grade school. The new high school would “allow students to flourish in an arts institute-like environment similar to NOCCA,” wrote chief executive Terri Smith, “serving a need requested by our current families.” The new lower school would offer French- and Spanish-language immersion options. Smith estimated Encore’s second school would eventually enroll 1,100 students.
- The Linda School would launch a high school, offering Advanced Placement courses, computer science courses and Air Force Junior ROTC, among other options. The school leader, who has not been identified, would go through a “community board process of approval.” According to the New York City public schools website, the organization currently runs a pre-school in Queens.
The Orleans Parish School Board submitted an initial letter of interest in John Mac but dropped out. So did Democracy Prep, a New York-New Jersey group that is opening a charter in Baton Rouge, and InspireNOLA, which runs Edna Karr and Alice Harte in Algiers.