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Teacher alleges 'culture of fear'; school performance scores reviewed

A “culture of fear” among fellow teachers was alleged by a member of the Pierre Capdau faculty at the May 29 board meeting of the charter management organization that runs Capdau and three other schools.

“Have you noticed that there are no teachers at these meetings?” Iesha Pearce asked the Capital One-New Beginnings board during the meeting’s public comment period. “Teachers fear they will lose their jobs if they attend.”

Pearce, a Teach for America recruit, just finished her second year as a Capdau math teacher and is not being retained.

“We don’t want anyone to fear coming to the board,” board president Tim Ryan said.

Pearce said “they” told her not to attend board meetings.  Asked by the charter group’s chief executive officer, Vera Triplett, to clarify who “they” were, Pearce declined to name anyone in particular, referring instead to “administrators”.

Pearce said that when told she would not be retained by Capdau, the decision was based on interim test scores.  There was “never anything negative on my assessments,” she said.

Ryan told her “a range of things” go into re-hiring decisions.

When the discussion touched on Capdau’s principal J’Vann Martin, who was present for the meeting, Ryan invited Pearce to stay for the scheduled executive session, saying that personnel issues “should not be addressed in public.”

The board had cited La. R.S. 42:17 1 and 3 before the meeting as justification for the executive session at the end of the meeting. The board spoke first with Triplett, then called Pearce into the session for about 25 minutes after which she left the building. The board continued to meet privately, with Triplett present, for another 45 minutes.

Asked for comment after the board meeting adjourned, Ryan said of Pearce, “We suggested a process to this lady, and she thought it was fair and we thought it was fair.”

Pearce said her contract is set to expire May 30.  Ryan insists he can be reached only through the network’s public relations company.  When reached on May 30 by The Lens, Paul Dauphin of Pierre Principle Communications said Ryan elected not to comment..

In public comment prior to the executive session, an organizer with the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union asked the board for support. Latanja Silvester was accompanied by eight colleagues, most wearing SEIU shirts or pins and none of whom work for New Beginnings.

Ryan said he was sympathetic with their advocacy of living wages, sick days, and full-time opportunities and thanked the union delegation for their comments.

Triplett briefed the board on changes expected by the 2013-14 school year in how school performance scores are calculated. Attendance rates and the LEAP scores of students deemed to be “approaching basic” are likely to be weighted differently, Triplett said.

New Beginnings has projected 2012 school performance scores for each of its four schools:

  • Pierre Capdau 75.7 (an increase of 5.4 points)
  • Medard H. Nelson 79.2 (an increase of 9.7 points)
  • Lake Area New Tech Early College High School 87.8 (an increase of 17.7 points)
  • Gentilly Terrace 79.6 (an increase of 14.3 points)

Each school principal gave a brief update following Triplett.

In order to move on to discussion of the 2012-13 budget, the board yielded to Ryan’s request that action on admitting a new board member be postponed until the next meeting.

In the budget discussion, board members questioned increases in the projected cost of transportation and professional services.  Director of finance Kendal Turner said she did not have a breakdown of the professional services in hand but assumed that the higher costs reflected a rise in enrollment, a view seconded by Triplett.

The board approved the preliminary budget for the 2012-13 school year.  The finance committee will meet before the next regular board meeting and in July the board will vote on the budget as finalized.

Triplett announced that chief operations officer Stephen Osborn has left the network and will be succeeded on an interim basis by Gilbert Bennett, who has been with the network since 2008.

The board approved minutes from the March meeting and resolved to remain with its current financial auditor.

Ryan announced Nedra Powell’s resignation from the board effective immediately due to a “family situation”.

The meeting began at 5:12 p.m.  It was scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. and as of 4:55 p.m. a reporter from The Lens observed no posting of the meeting on the outside of the building, as required by public notice law. The agenda was posted in a fourth-floor hallway, however.

Members present in addition to Ryan included Donnica Conway, Carla Major, Carol Skriloff Starr, Mark Boucree, Avione Brown Pichon and ex-officio member April Bedford.  Member Kim Bondy phoned in for a portion of the meeting.

The meeting ended at 8:28 p.m. The next meeting is scheduled for July 31 at 5 p.m.

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