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New science electives on tap as competition stiffens for both students and teachers

As the 2012-13 school year approaches, New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High is doing more than ever to recruit incoming freshmen and to retain students already enrolled. At their monthly meeting, March 8, the school’s directors were advised that projected enrollment for next year stands at 361. To date, Sci High has received 57 applications from prospective freshman, nearly double last year’s 30, a small class that the school hopes to enlarge by recruiting more incoming sophomores as well.

As part of the recruitment drive, school director Barbara MacPhee said staff have made 48 visits to  eighth-grade classes at various schools and have participated in fairs at the Urban League and the University of New Orleans. Nine churches have been leafleted as has the Vietnamese Community Center. Recruiting from high schools with an eighth grade has been tough, she conceded, because students tend to have a sense of attachment to the schoo in which they are already enrolled.

The city’s 31 high schools are competing for just over 3,000 eighth-graders not already enrolled in programs that continue through twelfth grade. That makes for considerable rivalry.

“Things have become very competitive,” MacPhee said. “Not one high school will give any names from their waiting list.”

School facilitator Laney French announced that Sci High will be introducing 12 new half-year electives starting next year. Aerospace Science, Anatomy, Aquatic Science, Astronomy, Forensic Science, and Genetics are among the new courses, but not all will be offered at the same time. Sci High will consider student schedule requests and then make an initial six courses available.

“I think that the exciting science electives that we are offering are going to be very attractive” both to current students and prospective recruits, MacPhee said.

In addition, the school is developing an advisory program through which students will meet 20 minutes a day with the same teacher.

Teacher pay is another area in which Sci High faces “stiff competition from other schools,” MacPhee said. One of every four teachers will not be returning next year, the school estimates, and so Sci High is recruiting teachers through Craigslist and teacher fairs, such as Teach NOLA.  So far 23 candidates have been interviewed and two hired, both of them experienced teachers.

Newly minted Recovery School District schools challenge Sci High’s access to new recruits by offering up to $2,000 in signing bonuses, financed through grants and $250,000 in startup money.

Despite the competition, Sci High insists that all teachers meet high expectations.

“I’m very much attracted to people who are deeply committed and will work very hard to do whatever it takes,” MacPhee said. “I want a teacher who is going to develop a good relationship with the students and who will be very adaptable.”

French added that, in addition to a teacher’s passion and willingness to work hard, he or she must also work to build institutional knowledge.

In other news, with Sci High still searching for a financial director, French provided a broad-brush report indicating that 57.33 percent of the budget for the current school year has been spent. The number is in stride with projections, though cash flow problems may lie ahead.

Board member Martha McKnight reported that 60% of applications to local foundations have been submitted in the past month and half. The school did not receive a grant from the federal Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy program but intends to reapply next year.

“We weren’t counting on the money, but it would’ve made our lives easier,” McKnight said.

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