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In rare move, New Orleans charter could stay open as a district-run school

Lafayette Academy, on South Carrollton Avenue, on Jan. 24, 2024. If Lafayette remains open as a district-run school, it will adopt its site name, becoming The Leah Chase School.
Aubri Juhasz
Lafayette Academy, on South Carrollton Avenue, on Jan. 24, 2024. If Lafayette remains open as a district-run school, it will adopt its site name, becoming The Leah Chase School.

A New Orleans elementary school slated to close may remain open after the city’s head of schools reversed course late Friday, saying she now plans to run the school directly.

Lafayette Academy lost its charter during this year’s renewal process and had initially been expected to stay open under a new operator.

But when one failed to step forward, Superintendent Avis Williams said she would shut the campus down.

“Ultimately, my decision is grounded in our district’s commitment to providing a high-quality education for all scholars,” Williams said at the time in a press release.

But some board members didn’t agree with her rationale for closing the school completely.

“It makes my blood boil to hear these excuses,” said board member and former educator Leila Eames.

Her comment during Thursday's board meeting came after a presentation from Williams on the district’s readiness to run schools directly.

Eames said she was flooded with calls and texts from families after they learned Lafyette would close completely.

“As a superintendent you should have come with a plan to direct run in your back pocket,” Eames said.

New Orleans’ public school system is all charter, meaning it doesn’t run any schools directly. In recent years, it has temporarily taken over the occasional school before eventually chartering them to new operators.

Williams pushed back on the suggestion that she wasn’t prepared to take over Lafayette and said if necessary, she would.

“I’m not saying that anything is impossible,” she said, arguing she hadn’t been given clear marching orders. “I work at the pleasure of the board.”

The board delayed acting on Lafayette's closure during Thursday’s meeting, citing the need to communicate with families. And by late Friday, Williams had taken action on her own. In a press release, she said she now intends to run the school directly and will seek the board's formal approval at its meeting in February.

If that happens, Lafayette’s roughly 500 students won’t have to enroll elsewhere, but will still get priority if they decide to apply to other schools through the district’s central enrollment process, which closes its first round on Jan. 26.

The school, on South Carrollton Avenue, will no longer be called Lafayette and will instead adopt its site name, becoming The Leah Chase School.

It isn’t clear what will happen to the school beyond the 2024-25 academic year, though more details are expected in the coming weeks.

Eames’ comments Thursday also kicked off a larger conversation between board members about the future of the city’s all-charter system.

She said she supports charter schools, but stressed the need for the district to run some schools directly, protecting children from the churn of school closures.

“This was never supposed to be a total charter district,” she said. “If our model was so good, why aren’t other districts in the nation using it?”

Correction: Leila Eames' district does not include Lafayette Academy. The school is part of District 6 represented by Carlos Zervigon.

Aubri Juhasz covers K-12 education, focusing on charter schools, education funding, and other statewide issues. She also helps edit the station’s news coverage.

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