Superintendent Announces Recommendation Regarding Eleanor McMain Secondary & Mahalia Jackson Elementary Schools

April 12, 2017

Orleans Parish School Board Superintendent Dr. Henderson Lewis Jr. announced today his intent to make two recommendations to the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) during its April board business meeting. The first will be a recommendation to close the K-6 portion of Mahalia Jackson Elementary School at the end of the 2017-2018 school year. The second recommendation would enable InspireNOLA to operate Eleanor McMain Secondary School as a Type 3 conversion.

Both recommendations will be presented to the School Board on Thursday, April 20. The Board will have the option to approve or reject the recommendations.

Mahalia Jackson Elementary School Closure Recommendation: 
School To Remain Open For 2017-2018 School Year, Families And Students To Receive Support

In a meeting with school staff and families Wednesday evening, Superintendent Lewis announced his intent to recommend the closure of the district-operated, K-6 portion of Mahalia Jackson Elementary School at the end of the 2017-2018 school year. This recommendation is based on significant current and projected under-enrollment in this portion of the school, as well as limitations of the school facility to support a standard elementary school configuration.

“OPSB is committed to fostering great school choices for every family while also being financially sustainable and operationally efficient,” said Superintendent Lewis. “This recommendation is not easy, nor is it one we take lightly. The impact to students, families and staff is, and always will be, OPSB’s primary consideration.”

To support the students and families of the Mahalia Jackson community, OPSB is making available the following resources:

     • Counselors, social workers, and interpreters will be available at Mahalia Jackson Elementary School beginning the evening of Wednesday, April 12 and into the afternoon of Thursday, April 13 to provide support to members of the school community.

     • Information regarding the proposed closure has been provided to the staff of all EnrollNOLA Family Resource Centers, as well as through OPSB’s Parent Engagement Office.

     • OPSB has contracted with EdNavigator to provide individualized counseling to each Mahalia Jackson Elementary School family seeking alternate public school placements during the transition period.

     • Pending School Board consideration of the Superintendent’s recommendation, OPSB will be hosting two informational meetings at Mahalia Jackson Elementary School for impacted families. Those meetings will take place on Saturday, April 22, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and on Tuesday, April 25, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Parents and families with questions on how to navigate the recommended closing of MJE can contact Cathy Chase at [email protected].

Pending School Board consideration of this recommendation, no new students have been accepted to the school, except for siblings of currently enrolled students. OPSB is also working closely with EnrollNOLA and community partners to provide full support to all impacted families. Families wishing to remain at Mahalia Jackson Elementary School for the upcoming school year will be provided individual support through the 2018-19 EnrollNOLA process to ensure they are able to access a school of their choice.

While several reasons for the recommendation were cited, chief among them is low enrollment numbers. The Mahalia Jackson Elementary School has persistently low demand from new students and significant year-to-year student instability. Even at full enrollment, the school is predicted to operate at a financial loss due to its size and configuration. Given the significant under-enrollment, which is projected at up to 20 percent next year, these facilities and financial challenges will be even more pronounced.

Additionally, the Mahalia Jackson Elementary School building was built before the school system reoriented to a K-8/HS model, and is not set up to house a full elementary school program in the current structure. Even with significant reconfigurations, the projected capacity for the facility as a school is at least 15 percent less than the minimum size determined to be financially viable in the most recent School Facilities Master Plan process. OPSB notes that this decision presents an opportunity to return the facility to its original intended purpose, as an early childhood center and multi-purpose educational space for the Central City community.

Superintendent Lewis notes that this recommendation is in no way about academic shortcomings.

“The staff at Mahalia Jackson Elementary has delivered a quality education to the students they serve, and I applaud them for their tireless dedication to the education of our children,” said Lewis. OPSB is also working to provide support to school site faculty and staff impacted by this decision.

While no final decisions have been made relative to the future use of the Mahalia Jackson facility, OPSB will engage in an inclusive community process with families, faculty, students, and local residents to determine the best future uses of this building, including meeting the needs of students, families, and community partners that are currently housed in the facility.

Recommendation On Eleanor McMain Secondary School

Superintendent Lewis is also recommending the OPSB grant permission to InspireNOLA for a Type 3 conversion of Eleanor McMain Secondary School. InspireNOLA had submitted a request to replicate the Edna Karr High School through the conversion of one of the district’s two direct-operated high schools, at either Eleanor McMain Secondary School or McDonogh #35 Senior High School. On April 11, the Eleanor McMain Alumni Association issued a press release endorsing InsipireNOLA’s request to become the future operator of the school.

This recommendation is made with the belief that it is in the best interest of students and families in order to provide them with the opportunity to access a high-quality high school program. Edna Karr High School is both the highest performing open-enrollment high school in New Orleans and the second-highest demanded high school amongst all schools participating in the EnrollNOLA process. In fact, demand for this school surpasses available seats. During the just-completed OneApp Main Round, approximately 50 percent of all high school applications submitted ranked Karr. Of those, 900 applications listed the school as their top choice.

“InspireNOLA’s operation of Eleanor McMain Secondary School represents an opportunity to build on the tradition and legacy of the school, which was envisioned as an intentionally diverse learning community from its initial expansion to serve high school grades during the 1970s,” said Lewis. “I’m dedicated to providing students with the best education possible and am excited to work with the community, faculty, students, and families to continue to foster the growth of such high achieving schools.”

Under state law and district policies, Edna Karr High School has earned the designation of a high-performing school, and pursuant to this designation the school’s operator, InspireNOLA, has the right to expand this high-quality program to serve more students through automatic replication. State law specifically prohibits an authorizer from requiring a charter application from a high-performing school deemed eligible for automatic replication. Furthermore, BESE policies require the permission of the local school board for an automatic replication to result in the conversion of an existing district-operated public school to a Type 3 charter school.

OPSB currently oversees 32 schools, including 25 charters, six network schools and one educational program for students in secure care facilities.

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