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Wilson asks for modular classrooms as board debates rate of expansion and school takeovers

With the school’s Olivier Street campus on lockdown as the result of a fatal shooting in the neighborhood, the board of the International School of Louisiana gathered on Jan. 25 for a three-hour meeting at the school’s Camp Street campus.

Head of schools Sean Wilson gave a presentation about ISL’s current and future expansion plans. Consistent with the  school’s “gradual growth” model, both ISL schools have been adding one grade a year. The Olivier Street school currently has 73 students, with a projected enrollment of 359 by 2016. Wilson proposed an “accelerated growth” period there in 2012/13 to add another two or three second- and third-grade classes.

The move seems natural given ISL’s success, Wilson said, adding that a growth spurt would add student services and decrease per-student costs. Even at gradual growth rates, Wilson said, modular classrooms will be needed on Olivier Street by 2013 because kindergarten and first-grade classes are required to be situated at ground level and the buildong has no first-floor classrooms. Indeed, three modulars are already needed, Wilson said. Each would house six classrooms, with an extra room for enrichment activities such as art and music. A five-year lease on such a structure runs about $340,000, including a $40,000 delivery and pickup fee, Wilson said. Board members winced at that cost and a brief debate ensued over whether to build the rooms, even though ISL does not own the building.

The Camp Street campus is also at capacity, and expects 640 students by 2016. Wilson stressed the need for either four modulars on Camp Street or a building off-campus that ISL could lease for kindergarten and first-grade classes. Wilson said Camp Street needs the modulars to insure the return of art classes, now served by a supply cart wheeled in and out of classrooms. “Art on a cart is not enough,” said Wilson. The deadline to rent the modulars is March 20. For now, no decisions were made for either campus.

Board president Andrew Yon then moved to allow one public comment at each meeting on any topic without prior formal notice. Vice President Matthew Amoss argued that the board already  allows for open public comment. “I don’t like writing new policy that doesn’t address a real need,” said Amoss. After lengthy discussion, Yon withdrew the motion.

Yon and Amoss also debated what percentage of a core curriculum must be devoted to a particular language in order for it to be called an “immersion” program. A motion to define the term more exactly was made and withdrawn. It will be the focus of discussion at an upcoming governance meeting, the board agreed.

A motion to amend ISL’s head of schools evaluation process also triggered debate. Amoss wanted to withhold the motion until ISL could compare its new procedure with that of other schools. “I see the value in looking around,” Yon said, “but I see no sense in holding back a decision on this before we look at others’ success stories. We have an extremely successful head of schools ourselves, and a school culture that is working very well. Other schools should be looking to our success.” The new head of schools evaluation process was adopted unanimously.

Whether ISL development director Pam Stewart should continue re-writing the school’s application for a million-dollar federal” i3″ takeover grant led to the evening’s final debate. The school’s first application was turned down. Board member Mike Lappa and treasurer Charlie Hadley wondered if ISL is growing too fast. “We should finish what we’re doing before we grab something else,” Hadley said. Yon disagreed: “Takeover is the main thing I am interested in,” he said. “We are doing well creating schools, but to be able to transform a failing school into a great school, that’s when you’re really doing something for New Orleans. If we don’t step up,” he continued, “then we’ll be letting national cookie-cutter charter organizations like KIPP come in and do it. We are homegrown, we have more of a stake in the neighborhood, and it’s our job to step up.” Proving that ISL can take a failing school and make it strong would open a lot of doors for ISL, Yon said. He stressed that the board was not being asked to authorize applying for the next round of i3 takeover grants, but merely to discuss the issue as deadline draw near. The motion passed 6-2.

The board also decided that the calendar on ISL’s newly redesigned website (www.isl-edu.org) would henceforth be the official way to notify the public about meeting dates and changes. Board members were instructed to post their agendas no later than 36 hours before each meeting. The date of the next board meeting has been changed to Feb. 29, to avoid a conflict with Carnival.

In addition to Yon, Amoss, Hadley, Lappa and Wilson, members present for the meeting included board secretary Barbara Griffin and members Duane Drucker, John Wettermark, David Napoleon and David Bordson-Bozzo.

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