This week as I read and heard about issues regarding Cypress Academy in New Orleans leading to the unexpected and sudden take-over of the school by the Orleans Parish School Board, I thought it necessary to say a few things.
First, it is unacceptable to be making closure decisions for next school year at the end of May. If the situation at Cypress was this dire, then both the board and the authorizer should have been problem-solving, planning and communicating with families months ago. I completely understand why families are upset, and they deserve better than this.
The problem also deserves a fuller understanding by all of us working in the school community as to what questions boards and authorizers should have on their dashboards as they consider the overall health of a school, both academically and financially.
LAPCS is passionate about the importance of governance and has been a leader in providing boards with the proper resources so that they can perform their role well. Boards have the ultimate responsibility of ensuring that the school is meeting its mission; being a good steward of the public dollars flowing through it; and that they comply with state and federal laws.
To help with those duties, LAPCS, through our Top Shelf program, created a legal handbook for charter boards. We offer free learning sessions, have provided dozens of schools with planning and training retreats, and recently started the Charter Board Advisory Council that brings charter board members from throughout the city together for networking and topic discussions. In June, in partnership with Charter Board Partners, we will launch our Charter Board Leadership Academy to build the pipeline of next-generation board leaders for New Orleans schools.
This should also be an opportunity for OPSB as the authorizer to review its processes and oversight of schools. As all schools transition back to the district this July, it is critical that they:
- Collect and evaluate relevant data, including financial audits, that let you know what schools may need more support and even, intervention
- Create a strong vision for the types of schools and missions that strive to serve all of the children in Orleans Parish
- Properly fund schools through a funding formula that recognizes not all students come with the same costs and fund schools in a way that creates stability
- Do not create burdensome mandates, but instead hold schools accountable to outcomes that focus on the well-being of children
Finally, some are claiming that the decision to keep Cypress open was a race-based decision. That is just not correct. The decision to do something other than closure has everything to do with timing and enrollment opportunities. At such a late date, it is not possible to give the students of Cypress priority to enroll in other schools.
Further, Cypress has a unique mission and currently has more than 20% of its students with special needs, making it even more important to be thoughtful in determining next steps. Therefore, keeping the school open in the short term, while seeking a long-term solution that may include closure, was the better and fairer decision for students.
If we stay true to our mission, honestly examine the circumstances around the closure, and seek out resources to address challenges, we can ensure families continue to have the types of choices that charters, like Cypress, offer.
It is time to redouble our efforts to ensure our boards have the tools and resources they need to manage in complex and challenging times. Whatever your role with charter schools or your view on tough issues such as closure, I think we can all agree, families deserve timely information that allows them to make the best decisions for their children. We can do better than that. We have to.
I’m always open to hearing from you, so please do not hesitate to reach out to me with your thoughts and concerns.