Charter Schools
 

Board eyes takeover of a Gentilly charter and may add a third school next year

Update, Jan 30: Two passages in the story have been corrected, as noted below.

Five months into their first year running Harriet Tubman, the Crescent City Schools board of directors  is preparing to run two more. Crescent City plans to take over Akili Academy in Gentilly in July, and possibly start running a third school next year.

“There’s a feeling among everybody I’ve spoken to that it’s going to be a good thing for students and the community,” board chair J.P. Hymel said of expanding the board’s portfolio.

At the board’s monthly meeting, Jan. 19, Harriet Tubman Charter School principal Julie Lause told board members that half of Tubman’s 541 students  are at least one grade level behind have repeated a grade, and that some still need to learn basic phonics in order to read. In a subsequent call to The Lens, Lause said 80 percent of the students are at least two grade levels behind in reading.

“At the beginning of the quarter, I felt like teachers were really grappling with that shock,” Lause said. “Now we’re building this piece about joys, about making learning fun, we’re starting Saturday school.”

As the year goes on and lessons become harder, stress increases — especially among children who are repeating the same lessons.

“That kind of pressure is hard for kids who are very far behind or have issues with behavior,” Lause said, adding that six students now take first period in the hall a separate classroom because the classroom homeroom is too distracting.

Crescent City Schools took over Tubman after the Algiers Charter School Association lost the charter it had held for three years. The current school performance score remains at 60; Lause said she wants to get it to 74.5 and dreams of 87.

Instead of one of their two electives, Lause said, all older students now take a period of “intervention” that was first used only for students at least three grades behind.

“You guys are making great progress and we are very excited to hear about everything that’s going on,” Akili board chairman Gary Bono told board members, by way of inviting them to attend Akili’s meeting tentatively scheduled for Jan. 23.

Seven Akili board members, including Fairgrounds president Tim Bryant and GNO Inc. executive Jeff Teague, attended Crescent City Schools meeting on Jan. 19.

If Akili is placed under the Crescent City Schools’ purview, Tubman’s chief executive officer,  Kate Mehok, would take over for Sean Gallagher, Akili’s founder and principal; the two boards would merge, Bono told The Lens. He said no job cuts are planned.

Gallagher told The Lens he is moving back East for a new job and has given Tubman leaders advice from his four years running Akili.

Mehok said John White supports the proposal and she expects that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will approve it. “I think they’ll have a lot of questions, but I don’t think they’ll deny it,” Mehok said, adding that the March timeline will allow for a dialogue with the state before the scheduled takeover in July.

In other business, Lause showed off a football-themed computer slideshow, likening the school’s progress toward April’s state LEAP testing to the halfway point in a game — a big milestone for new teachers still adjusting.

Lause said every student fills out a two-question “exit ticket” quiz at the end of most class periods, with teachers feeding the results into a Google Docs program and adjusting their lessons accordingly.

Each of eight “culture team” administrators wears a walkie-talkie and now responds to discipline problems in a designated area of the school, Lause said.

Students will soon take a third school “interim test,” which can be analyzed in a few days by a school employee in charge of data. “We’ve actually seen steady gains since the first interim; it’s just not fast enough,” Lause said.

She also showed a teachers-only account on the website Vimeo where teachers posted several videos designed to demonstrate their use of methods from the book “Teach Like A Champion.”

“We started the school with so much heart and so much effort, and now we’re at a place where many teachers are delivering great results,” Lause said.

Mehok and two staffers plan to visit New York in February to learn more about charter schools there.

Development director Alison Mehr said 33 people attended an open house and another one is set for May 9.

Board member Doug Harrell, the Tulane University controller, was named interim treasurer to succeed Paul Pechon, who resigned from the board.

Harrell said current assets are $775,000 and liabilities are $344,000, and that some accounting services may be outsourced to a private firm.

The school will delay paying a $51,000 food service bill as they wait for a reimbursement from the Recovery School District for overcharging in August and September.

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