Editor’s note: We had originally intended to do a listing of “most popular” posts on UptownMessenger.com in 2011, but in the process decided that a focus on the most important stories of the year in Uptown New Orleans would be more substantive. What follows is our assessment of the stories we’ve covered over the past year that continue to matter the most, with some commentary explaining our thinking. And, for anyone curious, those “most popular” posts are included at bottom as well. Thank you to everyone who read us in 2011, and we look forward to another year. 1) Murder
The city’s unyielding — in fact, substantially growing — murder rate is arguably the single most important story of New Orleans in 2011, and Uptown New Orleans was by no means spared in the epidemic.
A man found guilty of possession of cocaine after a drug deal in the Carrollton area now faces up to 10 years in prison without parole or probation if he is sentenced as a habitual offender, according to the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office. Brandon A. Cooks Sr., 22, was originally charged with distribution of cocaine after his April arrest in the block of Hickory Street next to Johnson Elementary and the site of a deadly shooting just last week, but was found guilty Nov. 29 of the lesser charge of possession by Judge Frank Marullo, according to a news release from the district attorney’s office. On Friday, a hearing on Cooks’ habitual-offender status was set for Jan. 9, according to court records.
The car used by several men in a fatal shooting Wednesday on Monroe Street just outside Johnson Elementary School fits the description of a car taken the previous night at gunpoint in a carjacking in Broadmoor, investigators said. On Tuesday night, a woman sitting in her tan 2005 Honda Accord with Pennsylvania plates outside a home on Upperline just over a block off of South Claiborne Avenue was approached by two men who demanded her cell phone, then forced her to give up her keys and stole the car, police said at the time. Just before noon Wednesday, Ray Maxwell was shot to death in a volley of gunfire from several men in a car at the intersection of Monroe and Hickory streets. Witnesses initially told police that “the victim was being chased down and fired at by several young males traveling in a vehicle, possibly a gold colored Honda,” according to an official NOPD news release, and investigators are looking into the possibility that it was the same car, said Sgt. Chris Billiot of the NOPD Second District persons-crime division at Thursday’s COMSTAT meeting.
Administrators at James Weldon Johnson Elementary School know all too well what to do when someone is killed by gunfire in the streets around the school. First, lock down all the individual classrooms. Check the bathrooms to make sure no children are unaccounted for. Move lunch and PE inside the classrooms, and close the outdoor hallways, yards and community garden for the day. “The students are totally resilient,” said Johnson Elementary Principal Wanda Brooks. “Unfortunately, they’ve gone through this several times before.”
Supporters of Johnson Elementary took another passionate stand in support of the school’s move to the more desirable site of the old Priestley campus during a Recovery School District public hearing Wednesday evening, while Booker T. Washington supporters questioned a plan to tear down and rebuild most of that historic building to house two separate high schools, including a charter-run version of Walter L. Cohen. Two deputy superintendents promised the Carrollton neighborhood leaders that they would be involved in an upcoming feasibility study of the Priestley site. To questions about the plans for Booker T. Washington plan, they replied only that nothing is final and that they are continuing to hear concerns from the community. Johnson | Moving a steadily-improving educational program at James Weldon Johnson Elementary into a more prestigious, safer location at the old Priestley campus has been a top priority for members of the Carrollton-Riverbend Neighborhood Association, and the half-dozen proponents of the idea dominated the small crowd at Thursday’s public hearing. The latest facilities plan calls for an engineering study to determine the cost differences between renovating Johnson’s current campus versus building at the Priestley site, and association president Anne Wolfe Nicolay insisted that neighborhood members be involved in the actual studying — not just given a report to read and react to afterward.
KIPP Believe College Prep on South Carrollton is headed to a new school building in Gentilly, and Benjamin Banneker Elementary in the Riverbend is slated for a new campus in Hollygrove, according to school assignment plans being aired publicly by the Recovery School District this week. Those two changes are the most significant for Uptown campuses among the recommendations that the RSD will be hosting public hearings on this week. Many other RSD schools around Uptown will essentially be unaffected, and some of the higher-profile schools run through the Orleans Parish School Board are not included in the list. KIPP’s highest-performing middle school, KIPP Believe College Prep, is slated for the old Stuart Bradley site on Humanity Street just off Interstate 610, where one of the city’s new $22.5 million school buildings will be constructed from FEMA money. The move will leave its current site, the McNair High School campus on the corner of South Carrollton and Birch, as an “opportunity” campus — suitable as a temporary site while another campus is being renovated, but not slated for any renovations or long-term assignments itself.
Better communication with neighbors, problems with a corner store and long-term changes to area schools were all points of focus Thursday night for members of the Carrollton-Riverbend Neighborhood Association at their November monthly meeting. The association is seeking to create a new system that will better unite and inform all the residents in the area, and neighborhood leaders are planning a booth at next weekend’s Po-Boy Festival to begin introducing the concept. One aspect, Carrollton 2020, will help define and promote the neighborhood’s goals for the next decade, and another component, NeighborLinks, will be a communication system that ensures all residents have access to important information. “We’re trying to build a communication network and engage the neighborhood, and bind the community toward common causes,” said association president Anne Wolfe Nicolay. Meanwhile, neighbors are working to reduce loitering around a corner store at Spruce and Dante.
With an apparent consensus in support of the latest plan to distribute what’s left of $2 billion in FEMA money to rebuild and repair New Orleans schools, attention is now quickly shifting to the programs will receive the school buildings once the money has been spent. The new plan scales back the size of some schools to be built, finds new revenue sources and cuts cost elsewhere to spread the money to every school in the city, either through new construction; full renovation or exterior refurbishment to bring every campus to a standard of “warm, safe and dry.” “Not every school is a new building, not every school is a gut-renovation, but every school is made whole for education,” said Recovery School District superintendent John White. But even as education advocates began thanking the state officials for redrawing the plan, discussion turned to control of the buildings themselves. The Orleans Parish School Board voted to accept the plan Thursday night, for example, but first added an amendment essentially saying that no building could be given to a Type 2 charter unless the Orleans Parish School Board declared it surplus first.
The agenda for tonight’s meeting of the Carrollton-Riverbend Neighborhood Association includes an update on the state’s plans for James Weldon Johnson Elementary School and the old Priestly campus, as well as a discussion of the Neighborhood Engagement Task Force. The meeting is at 7 p.m. tonight (Thursday, Oct. 13) at Squeal B-B-Q at 8400 Oak Street.
Both campuses of Lusher Charter School, “Baby Ben” Franklin Elementary and the International School of Louisiana’s Camp Street campus are all newly slated for renovations under the latest plan to spend the remainder of a $2 billion FEMA payout for school repairs, and Johnson Elementary will have a renewed shot at moving to the Priestly site. Lusher supporters in particular dominated the town hall forums held in Uptown New Orleans over the summer, describing their buildings’ critical structural issues that needed repair. The argument they made, joined in by representatives over other Uptown campuses, is that the rush to build “21st Century” buildings around the city should not take undue priority over the needs of existing programs.
Those concerns were apparently heard by district officials, because the plan released Friday creates an additional category of schools to be refurbished, including many Uptown campuses. Patty Glazer, assistant head of Head of School at Lusher, praised district leaders for their “creative problem solving” with the reallocations. “We’re thrilled,” Glazer said.