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McDonogh City Park tightens security in wake of Newtown shootings

McDonogh City Park Academy leaders plan to tighten security measures in the New Year in response to last month’s school shootings in Newtown, Conn.

Keeanya Dupre, director of finance and operations for the elementary and middle school, said the school will use state money to hire a part-time security guard to man the front door and make rounds through the school.

A key card system for front door entry will also be put into place for staff members, ensuring that the door remains locked during morning arrivals, Dupre said during the Dec. 20 meeting of the New Orleans Charter Schools Foundation board.

The measures could be in place as soon as this week, when students return from the holidays, Dupre said.

Dupre also suggested the board may be interested in looking into instituting metal detectors or hand-held wands, though neither she nor board members seemed to believe it was needed any time soon.

Principal Christine Mitchell explained the school does have emergency drills, which came from the state, and said the plans would be reassessed in the wake of the horrifying Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting Dec. 14.

In McDonogh City Park classrooms, glass-paned closet doors will be painted opaque, as they are the designated hiding spaces in the case of an emergency, Dupre said.

McDonogh City Park currently has cameras in every classroom, and Dupre said that teachers lock their classroom doors behind them.

Dupre said she expects to pay for the new security measures using $6,700 in state dollars.

School officials also briefed the board on the school’s Achievement Network scores and low elementary school student retention.

The second interim of Achievement Network tests, were administered to students in second through eighth grade in late November. The tests are used to monitor achievement of recently taught material. Scores are shown comparatively against other schools in the network to give administrators data on student progress.

Principal Mitchell pointed to math as the area students struggled with the most. Broken down by percent of students that scored 60 percent or above, the math scores are as follows,

Second grade – 49 percent
Third grade – 26 percent
Fourth grade – 55 percent
Fifth grade – 4 percent
Sixth grade – 12 percent
Seventh grade – 5 percent
Eighth grade – 8 percent

Mitchell explained the large drop-off in scores from forth to fifth grade as a problem with retaining students as they move to the third floor for middle school. She said there have been widespread behavior issues at the middle school level in the past. She said that and low test scores are common reasons families leave the school.

However, Mitchell said the problem now seems to be one of perception.  She also said the school has a hard time getting parents to allow some of the lowest performing students to stay after school for tutoring.

Many high achieving students are no longer at the school, Mitchell said, and some McDonogh teachers have even taken their children out after fourth grade.

“We have had issues and challenges in the culture and behavior of the middle school,” Mitchell said. “The challenge is to get parents to trust us again and believe it’s different now. It’s been very different for the last two years with Ms. Herbert (as vice principal.)”

Mitchell explained plans for getting fourth grade parents to come and see what it’s really like at the middle school level, in hopes of showing them before they move their children to another school. She pointed out that the students are excited to continue, but it’s a matter of convincing their parents to let them stay.

Board member Monica Candal said that middle school test scores are related to who stays and who goes.

“(Parents) have to place their faith in us that there will be growth if they stay,” Candal said.

She also noted that the school has the money to attract great teachers, and should be looking around the city for the best.

The meeting ran from 5:37 p.m. to 6:50 p.m. The next board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 15 at 5:30 p.m. in the library.

Present board members included Candal, Mary Kay Parker, Emily Waterfield, Jim Nelson, Laura Charbonnet, Thomas Hooks, Michael Plemer and Michael Bagot.

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