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Board drops expansion plan, cuts lower grades at Jeff start-up; LEAP scores rise

Parents applauded at the International School of Louisiana’s monthly directors’ meeting, May 23, when board president Andrew Yon reversed course and urged the board to drop plans to add another charter to its portfolio in the coming school year. Instead, the board should concentrate on solving problems at schools already under management, in particular the potential for crowding at the Camp Street campus.

The board agreed unanimously.

Matt Amoss, one of several board members who had been against expansion, welcomed the decision, but said the hiatus should be temporary. “I am glad we are not doing this right now, but I do think it’s unacceptable not to expand eventually, when people in this city are going through the worst situations,” Amoss said.

ISL’s board also quashed plans to add extra second- and third-grade classes at the Olivier Street campus next year, after the several recruited students failed grade-level language-proficiency tests. Modular classrooms acquired to house the new grades will instead be used for kindergarten and first-grade Spanish classes. That will make for three Spanish classes for kindergartners and four for first-graders, in addition to a Mandarin kindergarten class. Students for those classes will be drawn from waiting list.

Head of schools Sean Wilson noted that a Gulf Coast Recovery Grant for the purchase of the modular classrooms would have “evaporated” had the funds not been spent or committed by Sept. 30.

Low enrollment at the as yet unopened Jefferson Parish campus has prompted the school to drop grades three through five. A group of Jefferson Parish parents in the audience voiced concern about the cuts and wanted to know if there would be more. “We feel like we are being put in the position of betting on the school,” one parent said. The group said ISL needs to do some heavy marketing to make sure they don’t have to drop any more grades.

LEAP results are in and ISL did better than ever. English and language arts showed an increase of 4.1 points for students at grade level and above and a 2.1 point increase in math. However, some lower lows were recorded as well, especially in English language arts, where 8 percent of students were not successful on iLeap. Overall, 91.2 percent of ISL students are at grade level or above, compared to 61 percent citywide, Wilson said. ISL’s LEAP scores were better than Hynes and Audubon and slightly behind Lusher. Still, Camp Street principal Melanie Tennyson stressed, “7.2 percent of our kids didn’t make the cut. So, though we celebrate the successes, we do have some work to do.”

Board elections retained the current slate of officers except treasurer Charlie Hadley, who will retire from the board in June. Several candidates are in the running to succeed him.

Wilson announced that a decision on participation in a new statewide insurance program must be made by June 1. Wilson said the statewide program, at a cost of $110 per student, was better than the school could get in the open market.

In other business, Yon encouraged board members to join committees associated with the Charter Board Council of Presidents, which meets every few months to discuss governance and share information about New Orleans charter schools. The council wants to create working committees entitled Future Governance (transfers of power), Board Development (internal governance), Shared Services (pooling of resources: lunch contracts, maintenance contracts) and Violence in our Schools. Matt Amoss volunteered to tackle governance issues, and Yon has joined the Board Development committee.

Keep an eye on ISL’s website for news of a special meeting in the beginning of June to finalize the charter for Jefferson Parish, as well as the lease agreement. Everything must be ready for the Jefferson Parish School Board meeting in the second week of June.

A finance committee meeting on June 19 will be the final opportunity for public comment ahead of the major budget hearing on June 27 to set five-year financial priorities. The meeting will be at ISL’s Camp Street school.

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