NSNO supports InspireNOLA as they make key decisions in the face of citywide enrollment challenges 

A lower birth rate and population shifts mean that in many districts nationwide, including New Orleans and neighboring parishes, public school enrollment is down. Private school enrollment is down here as well. Because funding is tied to enrollment, this tightens school budgets. Schools in Oakland, Detroit, Boston, and beyond have had to make decisions to consolidate, merge, and close schools as a result. New Orleans is now facing similar tough decisions

NSNO and NOLA-PS have looked carefully at the number of students in our district alongside demographic projections for the years to come. Many schools are enrolling fewer students than they planned to or need to for long-term sustainability. Currently, we estimate we have as many as 7,100 “empty seats.” By 2026, we estimate enrollment may decrease by as much as 9%, which means the number of those empty seats could increase to up to 10,000 if changes to the number of schools aren’t made the next few years. This strains resources and will continue to be financially difficult for schools. To ensure more resources for our city’s students, over the next few years, some schools will need to combine, change locations, or close.

Some shifts are already underway; the InspireNOLA network recently announced that they will combine two of their schools, 42 Charter School and Pierre Capdau Charter School, at the recently renovated Capdau campus. The newly combined school, which will be renamed Capdau S.T.E.A.M., will result in 500 fewer “empty seats” across our system. 

InspireNOLA considered their enrollment numbers and the size and condition of their facilities to make this choice. The network currently runs five K-8 schools, among them, 42 Charter School and Pierre Capdau Charter School. Both schools are under-enrolled. Capdau has a large, recently-renovated building that’s partially empty today. It also has a marching band program, abundant greenspace, and a gym, which weren’t available at 42. InspireNOLA therefore made the choice to combine the schools into a single school at Capdau. This will allow more students access to a high-quality facility and additional programming, and provide the school a better balance of resources to support their students. They will be able to offer robotics, a “maker space,” and other “S.T.E.A.M” related opportunities. They also plan to retain all their staff within the InspireNOLA network.

“Over the last two years, we have monitored the districtwide planning and enrollment data that was shared by NSNO and OPSB. We decided to make this decision to offer our students and families additional resources in our schools, and to decrease the number of open seats citywide, which will make our overall system more sustainable. We value our students, parents and community and it was the right thing to do for the future of our city,” says Jamar McKneely, CEO of InspireNOLA. 

These shifts can be very difficult, even if they ultimately lead to more resources and higher-quality facilities for children. Stability is especially important for young people, and change can be hard for all of us. Managing the logistics of these shifts alongside the academic, social-emotional and cultural adjustments is no small feat. As schools and the district make these hard decisions, they are being thoughtful and strategic. Ultimately, they’re working toward long-term, lasting sustainability within a school, which will ensure more funding to provide the resources students need to thrive. Even so, the shifts are difficult, and we must do everything we can to help support the students, families, educators, and staff who are affected. 

NSNO, NOLA-PS, and the Orleans Parish School Board are committed to this. NSNO is funding stipends for staff at 42 Charter School to help honor those educators’ work and facilitate a smooth transition, along with uniforms for students from 42 who transition to Capdau next year. The Orleans Parish School Board is developing new policies to ensure that as these school transitions continue, school leaders are supported in making these difficult decisions, and students, staff, and families have what they need. NOLA-PS has announced efforts to prioritize “district optimization” through strengthening enrollment data and district-directed actions such as charter renewals and facility assignments. “District optimization” will help strengthen our district by making sure we have the right number, location, and type of schools across our city to serve students best and that those schools are academically strong and in quality facilities. The district has also committed to make sure that even as the system as a whole gets smaller, we continue to have a wide variety of excellent schools to educate all students. 

“Every school should have the resources it needs to serve its students, and every child should get to learn in a high-quality building. On the Orleans Parish School Board, we are creating policies to make this a reality as our enrollment drops. Districts nationwide are facing lowered enrollments, and we are all having to make tough decisions. OPSB is confident that our policies will help schools work through the complex factors involved in these decisions, and support them if they need to make transitions,” says Orleans Parish School Board Member Katie Baudouin. 

We know that this work is particularly important as students continue to work to catch up from the learning loss of the pandemic and Hurricane Ida. The recent release of School Performance Scores show that New Orleans schools are making incredible progress in helping students work toward mastery of state standards. For example, half of all schools in New Orleans have a higher percentage of students earning “Top Growth” than the state of Louisiana as a whole. This is the result of children and teachers’ hard work that was bolstered by federal COVID-19 relief funding, which gave schools critical additional resources. As that funding ends, schools will face increased financial pressures. When networks make decisions like InspireNOLA has, they help make sure their schools, and all schools across the system have more sustainable enrollment and are better able to provide the resources students need. This, in turn, helps students continue their academic progress. 

As the district, school board, and nonprofits like NSNO work hard to help schools adjust, we know that schools and networks are putting immense time, effort, and care into their decisions. InspireNOLA made a choice that ensures more of their students have a high-quality education, with enough resources, in a great building–as well as a unique S.T.E.A.M program. In doing so, they also make our district as a whole more stable and closer to the right size to best serve our city’s children. We are grateful for their foresight and their care.  

For additional information on enrollment estimates and the number of seats in our system, please review this NOLA-PS presentation to the November 15th Orleans Parish School Board Committee of the Whole.  

*Sources: New Schools for New Orleans Enrollment Landscape Analysis; NOLA-PS NCAP target data. Note: Graph includes all public schools located in Orleans Parish (including Type 2 charter schools); enrollment projection estimates are based on birth to kinder cohort rates and 3, 4, and 5 year individual grade cohort matriculation rates.

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