The board of New Orleans charter school group New Beginnings Schools Foundation has voted to surrender both of their remaining charters after a grade-fixing scandal at New Beginning’s John F. Kennedy High School.
The grade-fixing allegations came to light at Kennedy after a former employee told the investigative news site The Lens that school staff had changed students’ grades to help them graduate. An ensuing investigation by the Orleans Parish School Board uncovered widespread problems with student transcripts and misuse of credit recovery programs. The result: nearly half the senior class wasn’t actually eligible to graduate.
The board of New Beginnings Schools Foundation, which runs Kennedy, voted unanimously last night to turn over Kennedy’s charter, and the charter of their only other remaining school - Pierre A. Capdau Elementary, at the end of the coming 2019-2020 school year.
"Ultimately, returning the charter is what is best for students to thrive academically and for you to access the best options for your children. This was a difficult decision to make as we are honored to have the opportunity to educate your child," the board wrote in a statement.
"The practices that were uncovered at our school had real-life consequences for our students and families, especially our graduating class. In an independent investigation into allegations at John F. Kennedy High School, we found significant issues that led to this situation. We are shocked and disappointed by what was found. We deeply apologize to our families," the letter said.
In an emailed statement, Orleans Parish Superintendent Henderson Lewis welcomed the board’s decision and said he’s working to find a new charter operator for both schools for the 2020-2021 school year. New Beginnings will operate both schools for the coming 2019-2020 school year with oversight from OPSB.
"Given what transpired at JFK this past spring, revocation was being considered," Lewis wrote. "However, at this time, I believe this decision by the NBSF Board is appropriate and what is best for students."
Lewis assured families that both schools would continue to operate for the coming 2019-2020 school year "and beyond."
The New Beginnings Schools Foundation lost another school, Medard H. Nelson Elementary, at the end of last school year. The Orleans Parish School Board chose not to renew the school's charter after years of low test scores.
According to The Lens, New Beginnings closed another elementary school, Gentilly Terrace, in an apparently quick decision at the end of the 2016-2017 school year. School officials said the closure made sense amid concerns over low enrollment.
New Beginnings Schools Foundation began operating in 2004 when it took over Pierre A. Capdau elementary as "the first 'takeover' charter school after voters in 2003 approved a state constitutional amendment to allow state takeover of repeatedly failing public schools," according to the group's website, "becoming a forerunner in the New Orleans’ burgeoning charter school movement."
New Beginnings' latest decsision to surrender charters for Kennedy and Pierre Capdau at the end of the 2019-2020 school year will leave the group with no schools.