Concerned about a dwindling number of public-school options in the Carrollton area and the ever-shifting plans of the Recovery School District, a group of Carrollton neighbors plan to confront state officials yet again about the future of the James Weldon Johnson Elementary School and the old Priestly site on Leonidas.
Johnson school leaders and neighbors have begged the Recovery School District for years to move the school from its current building on Monroe Street to the site of the old Priestly building, arguing that the more prominent location on Leonidas would be safer and more attractive to families in the Carrollton area. The most recent plan, as of about a year ago, was to study the feasibility of using the Priestly site, but neighbors have not heard the results of that effort.
“They were supposed to talk to us in the spring time, and it’s almost winter time,” said Betty DiMarco, who has long advocated for improvements to the Johnson School, at last week’s meeting of the Carrollton-Riverbend Neighborhood Association.
The $16 million slated for Johnson in the current plan is not enough to renovate the long-neglected Priestly, and some worry that even that money may not really materialize.
“That’s an imaginary number,” said Jason Coleman, a Carrollton resident who recent candidate for Orleans Parish School Board. “If you look at what things are funded for and how much they’re actually costing, they’re going to run out of money before they get to your school.”The situation will only become more urgent over time, the neighbors say. The KIPP Believe school on Carrollton is slated to move to Gentilly, and Banneker Elementary in the Riverbend is moving to the Dunbar site in Hollygrove, according to facility plans now well underway. The only other schools — Lusher and Audubon — both have highly competitive forms of selective admissions, meaning Johnson could become the only open-admissions public school between South Claiborne and the river.
Johnson’s test scores have risen steadily — though technically a high ‘F’ this year because of the state’s new, higher standards, they have increased 17 points in five years and last year were a ‘D’ (when the threshold was 10 points lower). The widespread belief is that the Recovery School District will turn the school over to a charter operator, regardless of its scores, and neighbors want to have a say in the selection of that operator.
In quick succession, they are planning a series of meetings. First, they will meet tonight (Monday, Nov. 12) to set forward concrete plans. Second, they will present that plan to a host of local and state officials in the following week or so. Finally, they will interview charter management companies who could be considered potential operators of Johnson to describe to the state how they feel about each.
The full email from the neighborhood association about the education meetings follows:
At the November meeting of Carrollton United, the group unanimously decided to take the “bull by the horns” and confront the RSD and BESE about the future of James Weldon Johnson Elementary school in our neighborhood. Rather than waiting for a “provider” or “chartering group” to take over Johnson, we will address RSD and BESE with what we have to offer and what we want in our community school.
Below is our plan and we need your input to help form our community school.
Monday, November 12, 5:30 to 7:30 pm, James W. Johnson Elementary library – Community meeting to review and layout our values and needs as they relate to education (what we want in our school) and to list our existing community resources that will be presented to RSD and BESE and a chartering group (things we bring to the table for our involvement in our community school.)
Monday, November 19, 5:30 pm (alternative date of Nov. 26) location to be announced – Community meeting with RSD staff, Patrick Dobard, Dana Peterson; Orleans Parish BESE members, Kira Orange Jones and James Garvey and local elected officials, Susan Guidry and Karen Carter Peterson to present our plan for James W. Johnson Elementary school.
Week of November 26 and December 3 – Community interviews with charter organizations.
December 4 – BESE meeting