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To oversee Lusher renaming process, school will hire consulting group; no timeline set

lusher pic.jpg
Aubri Juhasz
/
WWNO
Lusher Charter School's middle and high school campus on Freret Street on March 7, 2021.

After failing to navigate the process on its own, Lusher Charter School’s board voted unanimously Thursday to hire an outside consultant to oversee the school’s renaming.

The board voted in late September to remove the name Robert Mills Lusher, an avowed white supremacist and tax collector, from its programming. Since then, the process has been contentious and complicated.

The board initially sought to rename the school without outside support and formed a study group to suggest new names to the board.

That group then invited the community to submit new name suggestions, before whittling the list down on its own. A short-list of 11 possible names included two Lusher options: Lusher Charter School, in honor of Jeanne Marie Lusher, and Lusher Charter School of Academic Excellence, Diversity and the Arts.

Following public outcry over the Lusher options, the board passed a resolution preventing the program from retaining the name in any way and decided to extend the process to collect additional feedback.

To facilitate this, board president George Wilson formed a new study group, but the group was ultimately suspended after a threat of legal action was submitted alleging the group — which had been meeting in private — was in violation of the state’s open meetings law.

As a result, Wilson formed a formal renaming committee consisting of board members Rachel Wisdom, Alysia Loshbaugh and Brenda Bourne. The group held its first public meeting on Dec. 28, 2021 and met again on Jan. 13, 2022 and gave its first public report Thursday.

The board voted Thursday to hire the Slone Group to facilitate its renaming process following the study group’s recommendation.

Wisdom, who serves as the committee’s chair, said the Slone Group, which is minority-owned and based in Metairie, submitted the lowest-cost proposal at $10,000.

The proposal includes “a lot of hours of their time reviewing material, facilitating meetings and giving us guidance,” Wisdom said, but did not say how many months of services the quoted price would cover.

Now that the board has voted to hire the Slone Group, the committee has the authority to draft a contract with more details, Wisdom said.

At its first meeting, the committee decided to form a team of advisors representing teachers, faculty, parents, students and the administration, Wisdom said.

So far, two administrators, Kathy Reidlinger and Sheila Nelson, and one parent, Norlita Parker Wells, have been selected.

The only public comment at Thursday’s meeting came from the school’s longtime math teacher Jerome White, who urged the board to change the school’s culture in addition to its name.

“The rallying cry was change the name, change the culture,” White said, referring to a demonstration by Lusher’s Black Student Union on July 4, 2020. “I really am grateful to all of you helping move us forward in the name change process. But how about that culture?”

White said he’s concerned by the shrinking number of Black students attending Lusher in recent years. While Black students accounted for 78% of the district’s overall enrollment in October, they represented less than 21% of students at Lusher.

“We used to be almost half Black, but now it's how low? Twenty-something percent? Are we OK with that?” White said. “Are we really going to have the nerve to keep claiming that diversity is one of our strengths? I don't think it is.”

Lusher’s next board meeting is scheduled for Feb. 17. The renaming committee is scheduled to meet every other Thursday at 5 p.m. for the foreseeable future. Its next meeting will be held over Zoom on Jan. 27.

Aubri Juhasz is the education reporter for New Orleans Public Radio. Before coming to New Orleans, she was a producer for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. She helped lead the show's technology and book coverage and reported her own feature stories, including the surge in cycling deaths in New York City and the decision by some states to offer competitive video gaming to high school students as an extracurricular activity.

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