NEW ORLEANS — The chairman of a beleaguered local charter school board said Friday that Kennedy High School leaders and its management contractor need more time to figure out if more than half of Kennedy’s Class of 2019 can finally get their diplomas.
On Monday, Raphael Gang, chairman of the New Beginnings Schools Foundation board, acknowledged that an investigation into alleged grade-fixing at Kennedy had prevented the school from certifying diplomas for members of the senior class until last week, when fewer than half the students were informed they could get diplomas. He promised an update by Friday.
In that update, Gang said, “We continue to work as quickly as we can to review all student records for the senior class. As soon as we have an update on every student’s status, we will inform families on what this means for their child. We will provide a next update no later than June 21.”
Gang’s update also corrected his previous statement that 75 students had been cleared for graduation, saying the number was actually 67. He blamed a “clerical error” for “misstating” the number to the press.
New Beginnings CEO Michelle Blouin-Williams resigned after WWL-TV exposed alleged misconduct with a million-dollar bus contract and altered public records. For about 11 weeks, from April 11 to June 30, New Beginnings is paying a consulting firm, TenSquare, $90,000 to help run its three schools, including Kennedy, and to make sure it stays in compliance. But the Orleans Parish School Board has signaled it could revoke Kennedy’s charter, and students’ families have expressed frustration with the delays in getting transcripts and diplomas.
The problems for New Beginnings began in February, when a whistleblower alleged that dozens of students’ grades had been manually raised, many from Fs to Ds, in classes taught by a teacher who had left the school after the first semester. The whistleblower, former New Beginnings director of data Runell King, was fired, and took his story and evidence of the grade inflation to The Lens and WWL-TV in March. That led New Beginnings to hire an outside law firm to investigate in April.
That law firm, Adams & Reese, then discovered other instances of grades being changed. Adams & Reese reported those findings to New Beginnings, which fired five members of Kennedy’s leadership as a result, according to a letter issued last week by Orleans Parish Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis.
Gang initially said the school was working to certify another 80 students’ transcripts. But that’s when he overstated the number who were approved for diplomas. Now that Gang has lowered the number of students approved for diplomas, it’s unclear if that means there are actually 88 students still waiting for approval.