Filed Under:  Education, Local, News

Benjamin E. Mays closes over objections

28th May 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Fritz Esker
Contributing Writer

The Louisiana Recovery School District recently announced the closing of the Benjamin E. Mays Preparatory School in the 9th Ward’s Desire neighborhood, a decision that has left parents and school administrators frustrated.

Based on documentation received from the Recovery School District, Mays’ closing is based on the school’s baseline SPS performance. At the conclusion of the 2011-2012 school year, Mays had a baseline SPS of 53.3 (75 is the minimum bar set by the RSD). The report the administration received on the school’s performance indicated that there was no problem with the institution’s financial records, nor were there any material violations of legal and contractual standards.

Dana Peterson, deputy superintendent of external affairs for the RSD, said the scores were reason enough to close the school. “If an organization or school isn’t even close to the minimum bar, we owe it to the parents and students to put them in a better situation,” Peterson said. “We know it’s frustrating, but it’s hard to argue against those numbers.”

Mays’ Principal Shanda Gentry feels the decision was unfair because the school had to absorb students from neighboring Carver Elementary last year when it was shut down. As a result, Gentry said Mays had to accelerate its charter and add a 5th grade a year early, taking in a number of students from Carver who had already failed the LEAP test. Twenty-five of the new 5th-graders were moved back to the 4th grade because of their grades. “There was no counteraction taken for Carver closing early,” Gentry said.

Peterson responded to this criticism by stating that many of the Carver students’ individual scores were higher than the Mays students.

Mays students are now left with the question of where to attend school next year. According to RSD data, 265 of 362 Mays students have applied to new schools. 233 (87.9 percent) of those have been assigned to one of their top three choices. Of that group, 62.6 percent were assigned to their first-ranked school, 18.9 percent were assigned to their second-ranked school, and 19.2 percent were assigned to their third-ranked school. Among those who have submitted applications, 10.6 percent were unable to be assigned to one of their ranked schools.

The most popular schools for Mays students are Akili Academy of New Orleans in Gentilly, Mary D. Coghill Elementary School in Pontchartrain Park, Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School for Science and Technology in the Lower 9th Ward, Fannie C. Williams Charter School in New Orleans East, and Medard H. Nelson Elementary School in Gentilly. Peterson said the average Mays student will attend a school over 30 SPS points higher than Mays.

Kenisha Nelson, the mother of a 2nd-grader at Mays, isn’t satisfied by this explanation. She said if the schools’ scores weren’t up to par, then efforts should have been made to improve the school before shutting it down. “Stop closing down the schools,” Nelson said. “If they’re failing, bring in the resources to get them where they need to be.”

An additional sore point with families is the total absence of schools that will exist in Desire after Mays closes. Gentry said some siblings have been separated, including a pair of twins. “Basically, my kids are all over the city,” Gentry said.

Nelson voiced even stronger frustrations, saying the consistent closing of schools leaves children with little to no stability in their education. When previous generations of New Orleanians attended the same schools as their parents and even grandparents, now children are being shuttled from school to school after a few years.

The timing of the announcement also aggravated Nelson. Students were given a letter in their backpacks on December 18 and a letter was mailed to parents on the same date informing parents of the closure. Nelson said the RSD limited parents’ options only to other schools in the Recovery School District. Other options in the city (Lusher was one Nelson named) had already closed enrollment by the time parents were informed of Mays’ closure.

Peterson said that although the RSD received the SPS scores in October, a review process needed to take place before the closure could become official. There had to be meetings and the board’s recommendation had to be approved by BESE. “It’s not autopilot,” Peterson said.

This article originally published in the May 27, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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