Lusher Charter School took a preliminary step toward a new and possibly more restrictive neighborhood admissions policy Saturday morning, but also signaled some initial interest in joining the growing effort to turn around New Orleans’ failing public schools.
School officials have repeatedly questioned the role of Lusher’s small attendance district in recent months, saying that the influx of parents moving into the tiny neighborhood to assure their children entrance to Lusher defeats the original intent of the district, which was to increase diversity and offset the impact of the Willow Street campus on the surrounding neighborhood. The admissions policy is already restricted to kindergarten students, and further possible changes have ranged from requiring a family to have lived in the district for a year or eliminating the district all together.
With little further discussion Saturday, three members of the Advocates for Arts Based Education board (Lusher’s governing body) were named to a subcommittee to study admissions policies: Paul Barron, Susan Krinsky and Carol Whelan. They will report recommendations back to the full board.
Meanwhile, as the public-education landscape in New Orleans continues to shift toward a collection of separate charter-school networks, officials say they are fielding an increasing number of inquiries as to whether Lusher would consider taking over a failing school elsewhere in the city (much as Firstline Schools recently did).
“There’s lot of money coming into the city for turnaround projects, and a lot of people ask if Lusher would be interested in doing that sort of thing,” said CEO Kathy Riedlinger. She noted, however, that this year the state has also frozen payment levels to public schools. “Right now, we seem to be in the midst of fighting for our own survival, in terms of charter renewal and operating agreements. In order to look at taking on another program, we’d have to be very careful about where the funding is.”
Board president Blaine LeCesne asked the rest of the board for their general sentiments: Given the “right opportunity” in terms of funding, would they be in favor of expanding the Lusher program? Though the board members agreed that decision would rest on the details of the situation, they generally supported the idea.
“I think philosophically, the more children in the city we can provide a quality education to, the better,” said board member KiKi Huston.
“I’ve always thought we should be infusing the arts in every school, so it should be duplicated if possible,” Whelan said.
“If we can fill that need, we should extend every possible effort to do so,” LeCesne summed up.
No vote was taken after the brief conversation, and after the meeting, LeCesne described it as merely “exploratory” in nature.
One other looming issue for the Lusher board is its charter renewal process. The Orleans Parish School Board has offered Lusher a seven-year renewal, Riedlinger said, greater than the five years it was automatically entitled to based on its performance but short of the 10-year renewal it was seeking. The OPSB accountability committee meets Thursday, and Riedlinger said school officials are still striving to gain the full 10-year renewal.