Dec 042017

The former James Weldon Johnson Elementary School, photographed in 2011, is now the temporary home for Lycee Francais. ( file photo)

With the array of elementary schools in the Carrollton neighborhood seemingly shifting every year, a group of neighborhood activists are urging Bricolage Academy to consider the former Johnson site as a possible near-future expansion.

In the years since Katrina, Carrollton has seen a number of charter school operators come and go from its various buildings, including KIPP and the Choice Foundation from the McNair and Dunbar building. Neighborhood activists tried to preserve the direct-run Johnson elementary school or convert it into a standalone charter for the neighborhood, but the Recovery School District closed it instead and converted it to a “swing space” to hold other schools undergoing renovation elsewhere.

The first temporary tenant was Sophie B. Wright, and now Lycee Francais is currently leasing the Johnson building from the Recovery School District while it renovates the former Priestley site a few blocks away for its long-term home. When Lycee departs, however, Johnson will be vacant again, and Carrollton activists invited Bricolage Academy founder Josh Densen to their annual meeting last week to discuss the possibility of a future site there.

Bricolage opened in 2013 in Touro Synagogue on St. Charles Avenue, and moved after two years to Mid-City, where it is now renovating the former John McDonogh campus for its permanent home. The school — which currently offers kindergarten through fourth grade — prides itself on operating an open-admissions, non-selective campus that emphasizes socioeconomic and racial “diversity by design,” while maintaining academic excellence, Densen said.

“We try to deliver on anti-racist agenda within an ethnically diverse group,” Densen said. “We all do better when we all do better.”

As the highest-performing non-selective public school in the city with the most in-demand kindergarten in the city’s central enrollment system, Bricolage has seen a tremendous amount of interest in replicating its program, Densen said, and it is a concept that school leaders have begun exploring. Carrollton, likewise, is a strong fit for its model, Densen said.

At the same time, Densen said, the young school is still finding its footing and does not yet have firm plans to open another campus anywhere.

“I think that’s still an open possibility in the future,” Densen said. “But I don’t know that we’re ready yet.”

Carrollton resident Alice-Ann Krishan noted that the neighborhood needs an open-enrollment options for families that don’t find Lycee a good fit.

“Our neighborhood is eager to find an open-enrollment school,” Krishnan said. “We really hate bussing our young children.”

Bill Ives, one of the Carrollton activists, said he appreciated that Bricolage is not trying to expand too rapidly, but said the need in Carrollton is urgent already.

“When I drive up Leonidas at 6:30 and it’s still dark, I see all these kids on the street corner waiting for bus to come,” Ives said. “What would it take you to get more interested in our neighborhood?”

Building the relationship between the neighborhood and the school now is probably the best first step, Densen replied.

“I definitely think neighborhood interest is important,” Densen said.

Betty DiMarco — who has been involved in the effort to have a permanent, open-enrollment campus at Johnson for years — said that her conversations with RSD and OPSB officials suggest they are already thinking about future possibilities for the site, perhaps even building a new school on it.

“I was hoping this conversation with Josh would pique some interest,” DiMarco said. “I hope to continue this conversation, because we really should get ourselves together.”

  2 Responses to “Carrollton neighbors urge Bricolage Academy to consider Johnson campus for future expansion”

  1. This would be a marvelous idea. We are a Lycee family and it would be great to have another amazing school (as Bricolage certainly is!) in the same neighborhood once our Lycee kids move over to the Priestly building.
    The Johnson building is a good facility and I’d hate to see it end up empty again after Lycee eventually moves out.

    • The only problem is the Priestly building is years and millions of $ from completion. They haven’t even broken ground yet and the odds of the LFNO board holding together that long and sticking with the plan are highly unlikely. Who knows where our kids will end up if Bricolage takes over the Johnson campus. Bricolage has considerable more funds and sway than LFNO, if they truly want it then they’ll get it.

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