Collegiate Academies is seen by many as the crown jewel of the New Orleans charter school system, which is itself believed to be a national model for urban education. The charter operator’s flagship school, Sci Academy, boasts the best test scores of any open-enrollment high school in the city’s Recovery School District. In 2010, Oprah cut the school a $1 million check.
But this past November, a chain of events started that calls into question whether Collegiate Academies—and other New Orleans charters with similar models—will be able to maintain their success long-term.
First, students at Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High School, another New Orleans school, staged a sit-in after a beloved teacher was abruptly fired. The protest shut down junior classes for a day and got the following school day canceled while administrators decided how to respond. Leaders at Clark's charter operator, Firstline Schools, met with angry students and parents, agreed to give students a voice in hiring decisions, and reassigned the school's principal to the network office.
Days later, almost 100 students at two Collegiate Academies schools walked out. The next day, about 20 of them walked out again and staged a protest in front of their schools. They said they wanted to draw attention to what they believe are unfair discipline policies. The following month, students rallied at a nearby park after school, then walked to a school board meeting where they attempted to present the board with a list of grievances that ranged from academics ("We have no textbooks to review when we study") to discipline ("We get disciplined for anything and everything") to food service ("We want hot meals and healthy food with taste").