NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis’ decision to overhaul management at two charter schools became final Thursday night. After hours of passionate public comment in support of the schools, the Orleans Parish School Board voted not to reject Lewis’ decision. The votes mean Mary D. Coghill Charter School and Joseph A. Craig Charter School will be turned over to new leadership next school year.
Lewis has been getting pushback from staff, parents and community members since November when he decided not to renew charters for the groups that run Mary D. Coghill Charter School and Joseph A. Craig Charter School. Lewis said both schools scored too poorly on state tests to allow the current charter boards to continue to operate them. Both earned Fs from the state’s school grading system in 2019. And Coghill has been cited for not providing adequate special education services.
“We do recognize the incredible hard work that the students, and parents and teachers have put into both communities, and that this news may be difficult to receive,” Lewis said. “However as superintendent of schools, it is my responsibility to ensure we are holding charter schools accountable in providing the highest quality of educational opportunities for all of our city’s students. And with that being said, I do stick with my recommendations that I made last month.”
A presentation from district staff showed both schools saw declines in their school letter grades over the past several years.
But during hours of public comment, school staff, parents and students urged the board to overturn Lewis’ decision, saying the district should provide more support for schools, instead of handing them to another charter group.
“I was told time and time again we would receive support. Where was the support, superintendent?” Coghill’s Head of School Raven Calloway said.
Staff at both schools argued the population of students they serve have special challenges: homelessness, incarceration, deep poverty and mental health issues. And supporters of Coghill noted the F they received in 2019 was their first ever failing letter grade.
The school board can overturn the superintendent’s decision by a two-thirds majority vote, or five votes out of seven. But after much public comment, only two board members voted to overturn Lewis’ decision on Craig, and the measure failed. Board member Nolan Marshall and board president John Brown voted in favor of rejecting Lewis' recommendation. Board members Leslie Ellison, Ethan Ashley, Woody Koppel and Ben Kleban voted against. Board member Sarah Usdin was absent.
Coghill got more support from the board, but also fell shy of the five votes needed to allow its leadership to remain in place. Four members, Brown, Marshall, Ellison and Ashley, voted to overturn Lewis’ decision, while Kleban and Koppel voted against.
The votes mean Lewis’ recommendations stand. Lewis says the district will direct-run Coghill for the 2020-2021 school year while it searches for a charter operator to replace its current board, Better Choice Foundation. The district says its reviewing applications for a new charter operator to replace Friends of King Charter Schools to start running Craig in the fall.