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Board debates reducing grade sizes and ways to increase teacher retention

Correction: This story has been updated to correct errors. In an earlier version, the statement about hiring New Orleans natives was misattributed. The school is counting on improved academic performance to attract teachers; it has no plans to offer a retirement plan. The request for proposals for custodial services was reissued after one vendor complained about the request itself, not paperwork associated with it.

The Success Prep Academy board discussed new teachers and future classroom sizes at their monthly meeting, Dec. 12.

In its third year and with 404 students enrolled, administrators and board members are looking at how to maximize space at the Bienville Street campus as the school adds sixth, seventh and eighth grades over the next four years. The building can hold up to 487 students.

For a memo on class size and space allocation, click here.

A board committee has suggested decreasing grade sizes by not replacing students who leave the school and scaling back on recruitment efforts.

Anderson Baker, of the board’s development committee, said scaling back to two classrooms rather than three in grades one through five would maximize space and increase student learning.

“The benefits of this model are as follows: It matches the capacity of our building, there would be reduced managerial strain (buses, tardies, teacher management and recruitment, meals), reduced stress on board, leaders, and teachers and less student recruiting,” his report states. “The result would be that we would educate fewer students rather than ‘service’ more.”

While 18 classrooms – two per grade — would be ideal, the building can hold up to 21 classrooms to accommodate larger class sizes especially in kindergarten, Baker said.

“We’d allot 20 classrooms over time for students and plan for a certain number of students leaving each year or not advancing to a higher grade,” he said.

On the staffing front, four of the school’s 19 teachers are with Teach for America, many of whose members are from out of state. That may make for high turnover, the board was advised.

Hiring New Orleans natives more likely to remain with the school long term could be important as the state’s public schools move towards the new “common core” standards by 2014, board member Avoine Pichon said.

“If we have teachers that are coming and going, it will be like a new school if people are not informed (of new testing requirements),” upper school principal St. Claire Adriaan said.

Yet, hiring teachers based on ability, even if their tenure is brief, has proved vital to improving student scores year to year, said Niloy Gangopadhyay, lower school principal.

“There are high stakes; the state just shut down Sojourner Truth which opened a year before us,” Gangopadhyay said. “The state is not playing around.”

Gangopadhyay said he hopes that when the school shows continued improvement, more veteran teachers will apply.

Turning to finances, the board voted to hire MainTech Facilities Solution for custodial, maintenance and groundskeeping services for approximately $13,000 per month.

The board had to resubmit its request for proposals earlier this year after Empire, a custodial company that did not win the bid, sent a protest letter complaining about the RFP.

The next board meeting is set for Jan. 5 at 6:30 p.m.

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