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Big jump in school scores lifts NOCPA into top third; special-ed students discussed

Director Ben Kleban kicked off the Nov. 13 board meeting with a highly encouraging academic update on the three schools run by New Orleans College Prep Academies. In the 2011-12 school year, New Orleans College Prep, Sylvanie Williams Elementary and Walter L. Cohen High improved by 14 points, for an aggregate  performance score of 82, placing the group among the five fastest improving schools in the Recovery School District. Having met yearly improvement goals, the academies are now in the top third of RSD’s New Orleans schools.

Kleban emphasized that success has been achieved in the face of challenging student demographics. He referred the board to charts indicating that 98 percent of NOCPA students receive free or reduced lunch, a measure of poverty, as compared to the 87 percent average for all RSD New Orleans schools. In addition, 47 percent of NOCPA students are over the usual age for their grade level, according to Kleban’s analysis.

“This is a real mark of distinction, Ben,” board chairman Kenneth Polite said.

Kleban discussed the school’s growing special-needs population.  He referred to a chart showing that students with more severe Type 2 disabilities make up 3.4 percent of the enrollment, more than twice the average in RSD’s New Orleans schools.  Kleban said that the majority of these students suffered from “severe emotional disturbance.”

“This is becoming increasingly difficult for us,” Kleban said. He said counselors are referring students to the school because of the positive environment the school provides for these children. But that requires allocating more resources and attention to their needs.

The board approved a new ”evaluation metric” for determining Kleban’s yearly bonus as chief executive officer. The document updates a version passed earlier this year. Now, 50 percent of Kleban’s total potential bonus is tied to the school achieving a “C” on state evaluations, rather than numeric targets the state has since changed.

The board also discussed protocols that allow eligible Recovery School District charters to opt for governance by the Orleans Parish School Board. Included in the folders reviewed by the board were portions of a petition circulated by the Lousiana Association of Public Charter Schools offering terms under which member schools might agree to OPSB governance.

The petition asks for assurances from OPSB that charters would still have autonomy of operations, budgeting, personnel, and curriculum.  It also asks that Orleans Parish release more comprehensive data on how charters under its management are performing.  It ends by saying that schools signing the petition will oppose OPSB governance unless changes are made.

“We’re a member [of the charter school association], and have been for sometime… and see eye to eye on most of these things,” Kleban said.  “To sum it up, essentially what this document suggests is that we’re not opposed to returning to OPSB,” he said, provided that the school board clarifies expectations and operating arrangements.

Members voted unanimously to add New Orleans College Prep to the list of charters supporting the petition.

The next meeting of the board is scheduled Jan. 8 at the Walter L. Cohen campus.

Present at the meeting in addition to Polite and Kleban were vice chair Monica Edwards, secretary Murray Pitts, and members Ruth Kullman and Jim Raby.

The meeting ran from 5:30 p.m. to 6:19 p.m.

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