Staff layoffs, shrinking enrollment roil New Orleans College Prep families

After an unexpectedly low student enrollment this fall at Walter L. Cohen high school and Crocker elementary led to a handful of staff layoffs by the New Orleans College Prep administration last month, teachers and families from both schools pleaded with the charter network’s governing board to find a way to shore up the struggling school communities. The New Orleans College Prep administration had budgeted for 930 students this year, 560 at Crocker and 370 at Cohen. Instead, both schools missed that target by about 20 students, costing the network nearly $450,000 in state per-pupil funding this year. The drop in enrollment was unexpected at both schools, said CEO Jonathan Tebeleff. Cohen usually receives many of its students — 50 or 60 per year — during the summertime “late enrollment period,” but this year has only enrolled six during that time.

New Orleans College Prep, operator of Cohen High School, continues to work with budget gap

New Orleans College Prep, the charter school that manages Walter L. Cohen High School, may have to dip into its reserves to cover a $300,000 gap between expenses and revenues in its $11.2 million budget for the coming year, if fundraisers and donations cannot fill the shortfall, according to a report by Yomi Akinyemi for The Lens. The budget hole comes from the expiration of previous startup grants and College Prep’s increasing portion of the costs of the Cohen building.

Cohen High School’s operator acts on plans to run another school, after questionable closed-door meeting

The New Orleans College Prep governing board — which operates Sylvanie Williams elementary in Central City and Walter L. Cohen High School — has decided to apply to run a third school, and took action on the application after a three-hour closed-door meeting that appears to have run afoul of the state’s open-meetings laws, reports Joshua Johnston of The Lens.

Open-admission Uptown high schools miss state averages in most subjects

Even as education officials tout increases in test scores around Louisiana and in New Orleans, the only open-admissions school in Uptown New Orleans that exceeded state averages in any subject last year was New Orleans Charter Science and Math High School — and that was only in two of four subjects. Among other high schools, New Orleans College Prep was only a few points off the state average in three of four subjects, and Eleanor McMain Secondary School generally trailed Prep by a few more points in each subject. But Sophie B. Wright Institute of Academic Excellence had decidedly mixed results, and the phasing-out Walter L. Cohen High School and the now-closed Sojourner Truth Academy scored even lower. The state of Louisiana offers end-of-course exams to high school students in four subjects — Algebra, English, Geometry and Biology — and assigns grades at four levels: Excellent, Good, Fair and Needs Improvement. While any grade above “Needs Improvement” is sufficient to pass the grade, officials with the state Department of Education look at the proportion who score “Good” or “Excellent” to evaluate student achievement.

State education board meeting at Cohen HS becomes forum for concerns about charter takeover

What was about to be an extraordinarily brief public meeting of the state’s top education officials at Walter L. Cohen High School became an unscripted dialogue about the transformation of that school and others into charters Wednesday evening. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education held a meeting in New Orleans on Wednesday with an agenda primarily of reports — a recommendation that Lafayette Academy be allowed to add an eighth grade and move its youngest classes and offices to a new location off-site, and receiving reports on preschool programs and building projects around the city. The board breezed through those items with few comments in less than 20 minutes, and was about to adjourn when Ashana Bigard, a parent and activist, asked for permission to speak. Recovery School District superintendent Patrick Dobard agreed to hear her questions, and Bigard began by expressing concern about discipline policies as Walter L. Cohen High School is transformed into a charter school operated by NOLA College Prep. Specifically, she said, NOLA College Prep has one of the highest suspension rates in the city — for minor infractions that Cohen students are not used to being punished for. “We don’t get suspended for laughing, or not sitting up straight, or maybe not having a belt,” Bigard said.

Walter L. Cohen student gunned down in Hollygrove

A member of the Walter L. Cohen football team was shot to death Friday evening in front of a vacant home at Fig and Eagle, authorities said. The victim was 19-year-old Brandon Baker, a 300-pound defensive tackle nicknamed “Big Baby” for being a mama’s boy, a Cohen coach told Leslie Williams of The Times-Picayune. Baker was shot several times around 7 p.m. by a gunman in a silver Chevrolet HHR that was later captured on nearby surveillance video, police said. Anyone with information is urged to call NOPD Homicide Detective Timothy Bender at 658-5300 or CrimeStoppers at 822-1111 to leave an anonymous tip that could be eligible for a cash reward of up to $1,000. The surveillance video, via our partners at WWL-TV:

Design for new Booker T. Washington school to be revealed

The design of the new Booker T. Washington High School building will be on display at a public meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. tonight (Monday, March 19) at New Orleans College Prep, formerly the Sylvanie Williams school, at 3127 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The new high school will be home to New Orleans College Prep, which is currently slated to take over Walter L. Cohen High School as well.

Uptown’s epic Sunday of parades: NOMTOC, Iris, Okeanos, Mid-City, Thoth and Bacchus

After Saturday’s cancellations, Uptown parade-goers were treated to a total of six parades Sunday — five in the morning, and the superkrewe Bacchus in the evening — with dense crowds along the entirety of each route. First were NOMTOC, normally a Westbank parade, and Iris, two Saturday parades added to the Sunday schedule because of rain. NOMTOC’s theme was “A Mythological Nightmare” and Iris was themed “Messenger of the Gods.” Following those were the usual Sunday morning lineup of Okeanos, Mid-City and Thoth. Okeanos’ theme was “Gone but Not Forgotten,” featuring lost local icons, Mid-City presented “Apocalypso: Party at the End of the World,” and Thoth’s theme was “Streets of New Orleans.”

Gunman convicted of manslaughter in 2011 Central City slaying near New Orleans College Prep

A 23-year-old man was convicted of manslaughter this week in a broad-daylight shootout less than a year ago within a block of New Orleans College Prep charter school in Central City, prosecutors said. Via a news release from District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office:

Late Wednesday night, a jury found Durrelle Bowens guilty of manslaughter. On March 24, 2011, the defendant executed Toriano “Tito” Livas at the corner of South Derbigny and Josephine in Central City. The defendant and his brother, who were engaged in an ongoing dispute with Livas, instigated a physical altercation with the victim as he was leaving a body shop in the neighborhood. The victim’s friends, who witnessed the physical altercation, attempted to come to the aid of the victim.

2011: The year in review

Editor’s note: We had originally intended to do a listing of “most popular” posts on www.beat-the-banker.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.