This article originally appeared in the December 20th issue of New Orleans CityBusiness.
When Great Schools Grow: School Expansion Opens Up Opportunities
In New Orleans, we know we need more students to have access to an excellent public education. That involves improving existing schools. It also means expanding our highest-performing schools to be able to serve more children. Certain schools are in high demand during the annual student enrollment process, which means not all families that apply will be able to attend.
Luckily, many of our excellent schools are growing. As our strongest schools expand, more children can access the opportunities they provide. We spoke to three of these high-demand schools—Edward Hynes Charter School, Morris Jeff Community School, and Bricolage Academy—about their expansion.
Bricolage is expanding into seventh grade next year, and will grow to include an eighth grade during the 2021-2022 school year. The school’s charter board of directors is also considering adding high school grades in future years.
“At Bricolage, we work to advance equity by creating innovators. We believe that innovation lies at the intersection of expertise, creativity, and agency, and every part of our model supports this mission. Teachers implement “Tier 1” curriculum—high-quality instructional materials that are aligned to state standards—to help students build expertise, and in every classroom, students sit and work collaboratively as a means of building agency and promoting creativity.
When I think about students starting with us in pre-K and leaving us in 8th or 12th grade, I get excited not only about what that means for Bricolage, but about what that means for the city. It could impact the future of schools here, to show that a model like ours can be successful at all grade levels. We aren’t trying to bottle up secrets from other schools and keep them from what we’ve learned. We want people to see what we’re doing and try to replicate it. We don’t want to be just good for the kids in our building; we want to be good for the city at large. We want people to see what happens when expertise, creativity, and agency collide.
Overwhelmingly, our families want us to expand. Right now, there are limited options for a child to have something culturally and academically like Bricolage in our city through high school. Families are eager for that, and nervous about the fact that does not yet exist. This city needs more good schools, and we are eager to grow into more grades as one of them.”
– Antigua Wilbern, Bricolage Academy Principal
Edward Hynes Charter School
In partnership with the University of New Orleans (UNO), Hynes Charter School in Lakeview expanded this year with the Hynes Charter School-UNO campus. The school will grow annually from kindergarten onward, adding a grade each year until the school serves students through eighth grade.
“Hynes is successful because our model sustains continuous growth over time. We have incredible teachers, and they are happy to be at Hynes. They are leaders and play a major role in the operations of the schools. As a result, our teachers develop a shared sense of accountability to promote our vision, mission, and goals.
As a school, we are focused on great teaching, “Tier 1” curriculum which is high-quality and aligned to state standards, and building the social-emotional growth of a child. Hynes also truly values building relationships with people—from community stakeholders to parents and families. We intentionally involve them in school events, activities, and decisions. And from our families to our educators, we are diverse in many ways, and differences are celebrated.
Because of all this, we have been one of the schools in highest demand during the student enrollment process each year— but we are limited in seats, and it hurts to turn people away. We felt we had a moral obligation to expand something that’s working, and our community wanted us to grow.
Now, the new Hynes Charter School-UNO campus gives students and families an opportunity to attend another Hynes. It gives children the chance to attend a school where they will be given the skills—both academic and social-emotional—to be successful adults. Already, very positive things are coming out of it.”
– Michelle B. Douglas, Ed.D., Hynes Charter Schools CEO
Morris Jeff Community School
Morris Jeff began expanding into high school grades three years ago; next fall, they will serve grades 9-12. As of the current school year, Morris Jeff also increased the number of kindergarten seats available.
“After our very first year, when we were just a pre-kindergarten through second grade, families started asking us to open up a high school. I said we needed to wait and see, and after a few years, families were asking again. They believed deeply in our mission. They valued the diversity and inclusivity that Morris Jeff provided. They also wanted their children to continue on in a school that had an International Baccalaureate curriculum through senior year.
As we’ve grown through high school, we have been authentic to who we are. We never wanted to step out and build something that wasn’t genuine to our mission. It took a lot of planning. We also added one class of kindergarteners this year in response to demand.
We have a culture here that people can feel. The moment they walk into our buildings, they feel invited. Kids feel a part of something, and teachers pride themselves in caring for and knowing their kids. Research and experience tell us that children need to be cared for, challenged, and conferred with often—and our teachers do just that. We do a survey twice a year to see how students are feeling, and on our last one we saw the highest scores yet. Students walk into their classroom and feel welcome, and they’re learning from materials that feel relevant. Each year we grow, that continues.”
– Patricia Perkins, Morris Jeff Head of School
When schools like Bricolage, Hynes, and Morris Jeff grow, they can welcome more young people into their thriving communities. In New Orleans, our public education system is designed to support this type of expansion. As this continues, and as all schools push to strengthen their classrooms, we will see even greater equity, quality, and opportunity for New Orleans’ children.