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Big grants announced; new grading system explained; bus routes may be cut to save money

The ReNEW Charter Schools Board of Directors met Oct. 13 at Batiste Cultural Arts Academy at Live Oak. In addition to expected updates, the meeting included presentation of a $50,000 grant from State Farm and the announcement of another $400,000 grant from the NewSchools Venture Fund.

In addition to Batiste, ReNEW manages Sci Tech Academy Elementary at Laurel, Reed Elementary and two Accelerated High Schools, one at City Park and one on the West Bank.

Board members present included Brian Weimer, Essence Harris, Mary Brown, Randolph Roig, Gregg Harris, Sandra Cahill, Jim Dukes, Derrick Rogers, Elijah Marten Feibelman, and Carol Asher. Board member Kathy Conklin participated by phone. Seven ReNEW staff were present, including, Liz Marcell, Kevin Guttierrez, Brooke Gershman, James Allen, Alexander Pearlman, Tanya Bryant, and Colleen Mackay. Others present included Jaime Collins, a local lawyer, who stayed for the executive session, and a reporter for The Lens. Board members Sharon Courtney, Donald Henry, and Amy Knower were absent.

State Farm’s Louisiana vice president of agency, Kim Rollins, presented ReNEW with a check for $50,140 on behalf of the State Farm Youth Advisory Board. The grant, for science and environmental studies, will be used to purchase microscopes and fund field trips. ReNEW was one of 62 organizations selected nationwide from a pool of hundreds of applicants.

Motions included a vote to approve September board meeting minutes, and a motion to submit a resolution to the Teacher Retirement System of Louisiana to include teachers at Reed Elementary in the retirement system.

Carol Asher, the board’s president, reported that member Brandon Key has resigned from the board for personal reasons.

On Oct. 17, Kevin Guttierrez became ReNEW’s new  president and chief operating officer. The former deputy superintendent of the Recovery School District will also be working with the board’s development committee.

Asher said the Oct. 6 Board of Elementary and Secondary Education forum was very successful. Some members of the board were independently involved in organizing the forum for candidates.

Board secretary, Brian Weimer, discussed public records requests, which have been increasing. Weimer, a practicing attorney, has been handling the requests pro bono, with board member Kathy Conklin and Colleen Mackay, ReNEW’s director of human capital and development. Board member Mary Brown suggested looking into hiring someone to handle public records requests; the board decided to defer discussion to a later date.

ReNEW presented its newly developed method of reporting student scores: a series of graphs broken down by factors such as grade, subject, and school. Achievement is reported in categories, such as “college ready,” “approaching” and “not college ready.”

The comparison of the two Accelerated High Schools revealed significant differences in student achievement.

The finance committee chair Sandra Cahill said ReNEW’s audit begins Oct. 24 and is expected to take three weeks. ReNEW’s form 990 deadline has been extended to Feb. 15, 2012. This will give the finance committee time to review the document and submit it for board approval. The board is planning to re-evaluate its five-year budget plan in January.

The board is looking into more ways to save transportation costs by reducing bus routes. ReNEW spends roughly $1,000 per student per year on transportation, which is in line with other charter schools, according to Cahill.

Reporting for ReNEW, Mackay announced the organization had received a $400,000 grant from the NewSchools Venture Fund.

The board went into executive session at 6:40 p.m. to discuss pending litigation. The next board meeting will be Nov. 10 at 5:30 p.m.

 

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