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Algiers communities rally to prevent schools merger

29th April 2013   ·   0 Comments

Opposition mounts for Algiers High School at Landry H.S.

By Michael Patrick Welch
Contributing Writer

Usually a simple and useful tool for parents, this year’s New Orleans Guide to Public Schools caused a stir because it lists O Perry Walker at L.B. Landry’s address. The communities of both schools see this as further proof that the proposed merger of Landry and Walker will mean the end of one or both.

File photo by Terri Scott-Lollis

File photo by Terri Scott-Lollis

RSD officials say that the “The Schools Facilities Master Plan” for rebuilding schools in post-Katrina New Orleans calls for only two high schools in Algiers—currently there are three. RSD wants to combine Walker and Landry at Landry’s new $59 million facility, to be run by RSD and the Algiers Charter School Association.

As reported previously by investigative news site The Lens, the merger would essentially dissolve Landry, its F grade and its 74-year-old history, while keeping Walker’s preferable academic standing as a B school intact.

Neither school is happy about this, nor is the community. At a recent special meeting to discuss the merger, the O. Perry Walker Alumni Association agreed to strongly oppose a recommendation to name the combined schools ‘Algiers High School at ‘Algiers High School at Landry.’

“[The name] exhibits blatant disregard for our 40-plus year legacy of academic and extracurricular excellence,” the association’s official statement reads. “[Our] alums have won Academy Awards, served in Congress, elected Mayor of New Orleans, run Fortune 500 companies, played in Super Bowls and much more.” The association’s statement goes on to hypothesize BESE’s other motivations for not simply fixing what he sees as minor problems with Walker’s building at General Meyer Avenue.

“The land is being aggressively sought after for economic development purposes or expansion,“ reads the statement, which concludes, “Our fight is not and has never been with the L. B. Landry Family. Just like us, they too are victims of uninformed and misguided decision-making by folks who do not have a vested interest in nor care about the future of the Algiers community.”

Orleans Parish School Board members Leslie Ellison and Nolan Marshall have spoken with BESE members to express their opposition to the merger: “We want the schools to stay Walker and Landry in separate locations,” Ellison said. And on Wednesday March 13, after BESE members Carolyn Hill and Lottie Beebe added the merger as a last-minute emergency item onto BESE’s meeting agenda, hundreds of Algiers residents’ attended, many to protest the merger. BESE members listened to citizen’s concerns, which they promised to represent back at their Baton Rouge offices. While no decisions were reached, Hill and Bebee were quoted in the press sounding sympathetic, and surprised at the community response.

At the same meeting, lawyer Willie Zanders distributed a letter on behalf of Friends of L. B. Landry High School, claiming that the merger is unlawful in two ways. First, Zanders’ letter argues that under Article VIII, Section 3 of the Louisiana Constitution, “The State Board of Elementary [and not the RSD]… shall supervise and control the public elementary and secondary schools and special schools under its jurisdiction…”. Also, under state law, a failing school is to be given five years before it can be closed, or turned into a charter without a vote by teachers and parents – whereas Landry was only reopened in 2010/2011.

O Perry Walker is known for its world-class marching band, and the leaps and bounds it has made academically. In 1938, Landry was reportedly the first school opened on the West Bank for African Americans. In merging with Walker, Landry would sacrifice its school colors and its school song. Zanders and others have also expressed concern that mingling teens from once-rival schools and communities will inevitably result in physical altercations and worse. “Students are fighting, and caring adults need to teach them how to make peace!” reads Zanders’ statement.

“I’d like to see the two schools kept separate,” says BESE’s Carolyn Hill. “The outpour from the community was so outstanding, and each side said they wanted to stay in their schools.” Hill says that the issue will come to a head at BESE’s next meeting in New Orleans on May 29 to discuss RSD-related issues. Hill says that BESE representative Kira Orange Jones, along with the Algiers Charter Association, RSD and Algiers’ community leaders were assigned to come up with a plan together. “The hope is they’ll have this plan ready for the meeting on the 29,” says Hill. “I hope to ask a lot of questions.”

This article originally published in the April 29, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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