Kleban to depart College Prep by year’s end when OPSB term begins

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Ben Kleban (center) discusses his plans for his remaining months at New Orleans College Prep with members of the administration and board at a meeting on Thursday afternoon. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

Ben Kleban (center) discusses his plans for his remaining months at New Orleans College Prep with members of the administration and board at a meeting on Thursday afternoon. (Robert Morris, UptownMessenger.com)

New Orleans College Prep founder Ben Kleban will depart from the charter organization before the end of the year to avoid a conflict of interest when his term on the Orleans Parish School Board begins in 2017, but plans to focus in part on adding another Uptown school to the organization’s portfolio before he leaves.

Kleban essentially won the District 5 seat on the Orleans Parish School Board earlier this week when his only opponent, Eldon Anderson, withdrew from the race. The District 5 incumbent, Seth Bloom, had declined to run for re-election, leaving Kleban unopposed for his open seat.

Before he joins the Orleans Parish School Board, however, Kleban intends to resign from New Orleans College Prep to avoid any conflicts of interest, he said Thursday. While College Prep currently remains within the Recovery School District, it and all other RSD schools will be moving to OPSB governance over the next three years.

As a member of the OPSB, many of the policies that Kleban will help decide will have a direct impact on New Orleans College Prep — which could present ethical problems if he were still employed there.

“There is the potential I would be asked to vote on something that would affect the interest of organization I’m leading,” Kleban said. “I could find myself trying to get a ruling from the Ethics Board on an ongoing basis. It’s enough of a gray area, I’d rather keep it clean and above board.”

On Thursday afternoon, the board of New Orleans College Prep approved a “transition plan” for Kleban. Starting Aug. 8, he will work only a 30-hour week — 10 hours a day, Monday through Wednesday — and his $155,000 salary will be reduced by 25 percent, according to the plan. He will leave the position no later than Jan. 1, 2017, when his OPSB term begins.

“Our loss is the city’s gain,” said College Prep board chair Peter Harding.

During that time, Kleban will primarily be focused on several specific projects, he told the board:

  • Expanding the network’s capacity through acquisition of another elementary/middle school,
  • Creating a “large early learning center” at the Hoffman satellite campus,
  • Finalizing the plans for the Walter L. Cohen construction, and
  • Working directly with Vanessa Douyon on development tasks such as fundraising, grant-writing and coaching.

A major goal of New Orleans College Prep is to educate students from their first school experience — through the proposed early childhood center — through high school at the Cohen campus. Cohen has struggled to recruit the 175 ninth-grade students it can hold every year, though, in part because College Prep’s two elementary schools, Crocker and Sylvanie Williams, are still growing toward the eighth grade.

Even when Crocker and Sylvanie Williams have filled out their eighth grade classes, however, Kleban says he still expects them to send only about 50 students per year each to Cohen — indicating the need for a third elementary school feeding into Cohen. According to Kleban’s plan, College Prep can acquire that third elementary through either a “turnaround” or a merger with another existing school.

As he explores that possibility, Kleban said College Prep will be looking strongly at options within the same Uptown/Central City area as its other schools. Those reasons are partly to keep the logistics simple, he said, but also strongly philosophical, as he believes the College Prep network has come to serve as a standard-bearer for public education in Central City.

“We are really rooted in Central City and the surrounding neighborhoods,” Kleban said. “We do believe in a future where we have neighborhood schools.”

As Kleban departs, the College Prep network will continue to be lead by its two co-CEOs, Natalie Kaharick and Andy Parker. Parker, who has a 27-year career in public education, fills the role of Chief Academic Officer, focusing on school performance and issues relating to students and faculty, while Kaharick handles operations, facilities, finances, marketing and other tasks related to keeping the network running.

After about a 30-minute closed-door session to discuss the two school leaders’ performance, the board voted unanimously to keep Parker and Kaharick in place, though with evaluations every six months instead of annually during the initial transition period.

“I think continuity is critical,” Harding said. “Ben leaving is a disruption. He’s been a very fine leader for this institution for 10 years. He’s an extraordinary individual, and will be hard to replace. Replacing him with two people is probably a pretty good idea, actually.”

Keeping Kaharick and Parker in charge of the schools was Kleban’s recommendation, and he said after the meeting that their presence is part of what gives him the confidence to leave the network he founded 10 years ago. Even so, he said, he has yet to quite adjust to the idea that he will no longer be there by the end of the year.

“It is extremely surreal,” Kleban said. “This has been my life for a decade. It’s definitely a big change.”

To read our live coverage of the meeting, see below:

Live Blog New Orleans College Prep board meeting – Aug. 4, 2016

2 thoughts on “Kleban to depart College Prep by year’s end when OPSB term begins

  1. Another article written with Kleban and cohorts as the only source. As a former education journalist, I sadly witnessed how many writers had a cosy relationship with Kleban. He’s happy to provide quotes on other articles for them, in exchange for positive press when it benefits him.

    Do I think the journalists think this is a nefarious plot? No, not at all. They just appreciate the “access,” don’t realize they’re writing an article with essentially only one source. Interviewing a contrasting source is journalism 101.

    The article doesn’t even discuss a potential conflict of interest once Kleban leaves his position. Just because he says “hey I’m no longer with NOCP at this moment”… we’re supposed to take that seriously? I guess if you’re the writer, heh heh. No offense, but get real.

  2. Sad coverage by Uptown Messenger. I used to see Robert occasionally at school board meetings I would cover (he’d cover the ones that promised headlines), I’d taken him more seriously than this in past. Sad.

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