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Testing reveals strengths and weaknesses; board opposes 'mega' high school merger

The board of New Orleans College Preparatory Academies met Oct. 5 at 4:35 p.m. to review academic performance and chart a path for the upcoming year.

The meeting began with a Powerpoint presentation by Ben Kleban, the schools’ founder and director, analyzing student performance. Kleban said students will be tested four times a year, using data generated by the Achievement Network to measure  math and English proficiency and tests the school has designed itself for science and social studies.

Students were expected to have low scores on the first-quarter exam, because they were being tested on curricula not yet completed. Tests revealed weaknesses in elementary school science and in high school math and science. Kleban said the testing helped identify areas for improvement and intervention.

Board Member Ruth Kullman spoke about fundraising goals. Donations shrank from  $1,292,396 in 2009 to $181,088 in 2010, but the shortfall was offset by grants pledged in 2010 but not received until the 2011 fiscal year, she said. The board should seek six-figure and seven-figure donors, she said.

In an update on facilities, board member James Raby voiced strong opposition to creation of a “mega school” by merging Booker T. Washington and Walter H. Cohen high schools. College Prep currently houses its high school at Cohen.

Raby cited research which shows that smaller schools tend to have a lower incidence of violence and better academic performance. He also cited the RSD Assessment Survey that estimated renovating Cohen would cost $18.4 million, while building the new facility would cost $31.7 million. As a member of the Walter L. Cohen Alumni Association, Raby said he planned to work with Booker T to keep both schools open. Several board members discussed obtaining a charter to run a high school at Cohen.

Board member Rick Conway presented the results of the independent audit. The audit found no payroll discrepancies.

High School Principal Rahel Wondwossen was introduced and took questions. She said College Prep’s priorities are preparing students for rigorous study, establishing a positive school culture, and increasing the capacity of middle managers as the school grows. College Prep employs several classroom managers who oversee teacher performance, and coordinate instruction. Wondwossen and Kleban discussed ways to use classroom managers more effectively and to more accurately pinpoint areas in need of improvement.

The Board said goodbye to Director of Development Sarah Leffert, who is leaving for San Francisco. The meeting ended at 5:41 with Board President Hal Brown encouraging  members to attend the State Charter Board Council debate immediately afterward.

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