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Morris Jeff Community School still looking for new location

As the lease for Morris Jeff Community School is set to expire at the end of the school year, board members at Thursday’s meeting were anxious to find a new location for the school’s students.

“We can’t squeeze more classrooms in here,” said Principal Patricia Perkins. She said she is concerned about student safety and school growth.

“After what happened at Newtown, I can’t bear the thought of having classrooms without doors with locks,” Perkins said, referring to the December school shooting that left 20 Connecticut first-graders dead.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency currently pays the monthly rent, but when the lease ends the rent will have to come out of the school’s budget. The school is scheduled to move permanently into a new school building on South Lopez Street in the summer of 2014, according to Perkins.

Perkins said that she had been talking to a commercial real estate agent, and was considering several solutions for a temporary location. They include asking the current realtor to offer the building space pro bono, but Perkins says that would mean finding a separate space for preschoolers.

The school has 275 students.

If Morris Jeff stays in its current location, the board discussed the possibility of sending pre-kindergarten classes to other schools. Perkins also said she is looking into the possibility of using space at Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church, and maybe sharing the church’s space with another school.

Another idea was to move into the building that housed James Weldon Johnson Elementary, a school that is closing, according to Perkins.

Either way, some board members seemed concerned that a decision hadn’t been reached.

“Not having a location weighs heavily on parents decisions for enrollment,” board director Jennifer Weishaupt pointed out.

The principal’s report also focused on efforts to improve school-wide academic performance and help students better prepare for iLEAP and LEAP tests. The school currently has a “D” grade on the state report card.

Perkins said that the school hired a part-time teacher to work with a targeted group of third grade students in small groups for the iLEAP, and that a volunteer tutoring program was put in place for fourth grade students to prepare for the LEAP.

Board President Aesha Rasheed said that she was “excited” to see the volunteer program was in place.

Students also came from St. Norbert’s College in Green Bay, Wisc. for the third year in a row to help students sharpen their reading and math skills.

Additionally, Perkins announced that parent meetings were held to discuss how they could help their kids prepare for upcoming tests at home.

The meeting also touched on preparations for teacher and faculty evaluations.

Teacher observations for Compass, the state’s new educator evaluation system, will be taking place over the next three weeks, Perkins announced. The new system evaluates teachers and school leaders using a four-tiered rating system that judges their abilities to effectively educate students.

Perkins also said that a Recovery School District Performance Review, held earlier in the day, went well, and that the RSD didn’t see any need to come back until the following year.

In a financial report, treasurer Melissa Jagers noted that some expenses cost more than anticipated, and that the board needed to keep a close eye on the budget for potential adjustments in categories ranging from staff health insurance to the cost of technical support.

Board members also pointed out that the school should reevaluate billing methods used for students who attend the after-school Explorers Program. Some parents are months behind in payment, board member Weishaupt said.

Weishaupt said that the school should use “the summer camp model,” asking parents to pay ahead of time. She also suggested that the school implement sliding-scale policies for parents who really have trouble ponying up the expense.

That being noted, however, board member Weishaupt pointed out that the school is $10,000 ahead of what the board budgeted for donations and other school contributions.

The school is planning another fundraiser, an art auction, on March 2.

The board also announced that Morris Jeff Community School received the $50,000 Believe and Include award on Dec. 18.

A financial audit report broken down at the beginning of the meeting showed a few minor mistakes in bookkeeping that were mostly clerical in error. They included erroneous documentations of class size and an error in the number of years of experience documented for the principal.

The audit also showed that a gift of books from former First Lady Laura Bush needed to be added as grant revenue, even though no money was exchanged.

According to the audit, a restricted grant of $50,000 was awarded for the purchase of library books, with a grant criteria that the donor is billed directly for the cost of the books, until the funds are fully expensed. The school didn’t record this grant revenue or corresponding expenses for the school year ending in June 2012.

The meeting started at 6 p.m. and ended just after 7 p.m.  Board members present were Jennifer Weishaupt, Aesha Rasheed, Melissa Jagers, Jolene Jeff, Belinda Cambre and Wanda Anderson Guillaume.

The next meeting is scheduled for February 21st.

*Correction: An earlier version of this story inaccurately stated that the school was considering moving some classes to a Catholic high school. This story has been corrected.

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