Two months into the school year, the head of the Recovery School District abruptly fired the principal of Walter L. Cohen High School as well as several teachers and announced that he was turning the school over to a charter operator called the Future Is Now.
Students reacted angrily and protested the disruption in their school. They issued their own demands, which included the funds to repair the building, reinstatement of the fired staff and a full report from the charter about its record, its test scores, suspensions, police reports, graduation rates, attrition rate and other data about its performance.
The Future Is Now is a charter chain led by Steve Barr (formerly of Green Dot in California) and real estate developer Gideon Stein of New York City, who has been associated with Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy schools.
The following exchange of letters between Tracie Washington, a prominent civil rights attorney in New Orleans, and Gideon Stein, shows the heat of the controversy. In New Orleans, the wishes of parents, students, and communities count for nothing. All decisions are made elsewhere.
From: “Tracie Washington”
Date: Oct 9, 2012 6:02 PM
Subject: RE: Walter L. Cohen High School
To: “Gideon Stein”
Cc: “Vaughn R Fauria” , , , , , , , , “Mary Joseph” , “Judith Browne-Dianis” , “Tracie Washington”
The problem is the presumptions made that started this web of deception and mess. That web continues, even today with Recovery School District (RSD) and FINS-Nola backdating a contract (it’s a public record folks; that’s a big ‘no,no’). Apologizing to me means little. You and your Board and the RSD did something that really is unforgiveable. You entered a community and said “I know what’s better for you and your children. I will not consult with you, but instead take over your community.” I’m saddened not because you did this. You are not a member of my community. But Black folk in this community did it to other Black folk. And yesterday, when these students were exercising civil disobedience the likes of which I had not seen from our young folk, RSD threatened them with the declaration of truancy, which is criminalization in our community.
On Sunday, the students told our community they felt like slaves. SLAVES. It’s 2012. FINS-Nola and RSD made a group of Black children feel like slaves. We have Congo Square. I guess we should have simply sent the kids there on Friday.
I don’t know how you resolve the lies told to take away the rights of these parents and students. You all have been paid. So it’s all better because now you say you’re sorry? Really.
You get to fly out of here. So it’s up to Black women to clean up this mess? My grandmother worked for $3/day and carfare so that I would not have to clean up behind white folk. Not today. This is your mess Gideon. Stick around!
I’m just sick!
Tracie L. Washington, Esq.
President & CEO
Louisiana Justice Institute
Every day without fail — Make Justice Happen
1631 Elysian Fields Avenue | New Orleans, Louisiana 70117
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From: Gideon Stein [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Tuesday, October 09, 2012 5:42 PM
To: Tracie Washington
Cc: Vaughn R Fauria
Subject: Re: Walter L. Cohen High School
I’m replying to you and Vaughn and bcc’ing the rest of the FINNOLA board and other people cc’d on your email. First, let me state that FINNOLA is very sorry for any disruption and hurt caused to the Cohen community. As with John McDonogh, FINNOLA recognizes the important history of New Orleans schools and the unique identity that students, alumni, parents and the community all share with respect to their schools. FINNOLA is committed to working with all stake holders at Cohen to hear concerns and ensure that community interests are considered along with our commitment to providing the best possible education for children.
I spent time at Walter L. Cohen today and can report that the protests are over, the kids are back in class and we are working with the RSD and NOCP to address many of the issues raised by the Cohen students.
Future Is Now Schools