Based on Cohen’s anemic test scores in recent years, the New Orleans College Prep charter management organization was chosen by the Recovery School District to gradually take the school over, with its students rising a year at a time as the direct-run Cohen program was phased out. Only 11th and 12th grade students remained in the direct-run school this year, and on Thursday, those students and their parents protested the recent RSD announcement that, because of problems with the “school culture,” the Future Is Now charter group would be assuming operation of Cohen’s 11th and 12th grades on Oct. 15.
“They just weren’t getting the type of educational care and focus that the superintendent of the Recovery School District felt they needed and deserved,” said Future Is Now president Gideon Stein.
Based in New York and Los Angeles, the Future Is Now group assumed operation of John McDonogh High School this year. The major change for those roughly 110 Cohen students, Stein said, will be new staff at the schools. A principal from John McDonogh, New Orleans native Chad Broussard, will assume leadership of Cohen, Stein said. New teachers will be hired, but some of those with the best records at Cohen will be rehired as well, Stein said.
Otherwise, the status of the school will remain the same, he said. The seniors will still graduate with a Cohen diploma, and the football team will continue to play under the same name.
“The school name is not changing, all current 11th and 12th grade students attending RSD-Cohen will remain at the school and continue to wear the same uniform and participate in the same extracurricular activities, which are still managed by NOCP,” wrote New Orleans College Prep leader Ben Kleban in an email to the school board Thursday. “Seniors who graduate this year will receive diplomas from Cohen as well.”
The Future is Now contract at Cohen is only for this year, and one point yet to be decided is what will happen to this year’s direct-run Cohen juniors. Kleban told the New Orleans College Prep board that next year, Prep will run the entire school.
“This will be the final year of the ‘phase in – phase out’ transformation of Walter L. Cohen to new management and NOCP will operate the entire building with grades 6-12 in 2013-2014 and thereafter,” Kleban writes. “FIN will return to managing only John McDonough High School next year and will no longer be operating in the Cohen building after this school year.”
Stein, however, said that discussions about the following year have yet to begin, and that its current commitment is simply to keep “Cohen as Cohen.” If those students are happy with the education they receive this year, they will be welcome to transfer to John McDonogh, or the RSD may authorize Future is Now for a final year at Cohen, Stein said.
Although Future Is Now’s record at John McDonogh has yet to be established, Stein said that one early measure of improvement there is in attendance. It was “horrendous” last year, Stein said, but other than the weeks immediately around Hurricane Isaac, attendance has been above 90 percent this year. That commitment, he said, will also be on display at Cohen.
“We’re very focused on providing excellent opportunities for all the kids in that building,” Stein said.