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Einstein lands $1 million federal grant for Intercultural ‘turn-around’

New Schools for New Orleans announced Tuesday that Einstein Group, Inc. will receive $1 million from the federal government to turn around an academically failing school next year.

At the behest of Recovery School District officials, Einstein is taking over Intercultural Charter School, an F-rated school currently serving 425 students. The federal grant should help.

Shawn Toranto, principal of Einstein Group’s current C-rated Einstein Charter School in eastern New Orleans, said she hopes the new campus will enroll 500 students in the 2013-14 school year.

But finalizing those student numbers in a timely way could prove difficult.

Einstein’s takeover of Intercultural Charter School has been a lengthy process, complicated by the fact that each charter is overseen by a different authorizer: Einstein is governed by the Orleans Parish School Board and Intercultural by the Recovery School District.

Orleans Parish School Board charters were invited to use RSD’s centralized enrollment application this year, but many, including Einstein, opted to remain in control of their own application process.

To simplify the process for Intercultural students, Einstein officials decided to list the school on the OneApp. That way, Einstein officials could get in touch with families interested in continuing at Intercultural, which administrators are calling “Einstein 2” for the time being.

Einstein’s board of directors on Tuesday expressed concern over application numbers for the second site.

While Toranto already has over 500 students accepted and enrolled for next year for Einstein’s original campus, only one student has confirmed plans to attend the new campus in the fall. That’s probably because the OneApp application isn’t due until March 15 and, when Toranto last checked with RSD officials, only 12 Intercultural students had turned in their applications.

All students currently at Intercultural are guaranteed a spot with Einstein 2.  Bennett said the guaranteed seats wouldn’t prevent the school from accepting applications, but will factor in when enrollment decisions are made.

Toranto said ideally she would already have enrollment numbers for the new school, as she currently does for Einstein 1. She explained that with previous administrative turnover — and now operator turnover at Intercultural —  parents may be wondering if they want to continue at the school.

“Those are the questions I think as parents we’d ask ourselves,” Toranto said.

Member Donnica Conway agreed, and said she could understand why enrollment might be lagging with a new operator coming in.

Toranto said she’s seen some interest from students at Ben Mays Preparatory School, which will close at the end of this year as the state decided not to renew its charter.

Bennett asked Toranto to provide the board with monthly enrollment updates compared with projections.

He proposed current Einstein leaders partner with Intercultural to collect applications.  Toranto said she is already planning to send out mailings and is working with a marketing company and will likely host another open house at Einstein 1.

Receiving student enrollment numbers later in the year leads to other complications, Toranto said. One of them is transportation costs. Without firm numbers, there’s no way to know what neighborhood the children will be coming from and what transportation offerings will be necessary.

Toranto said she has had trouble getting estimates for busing service without student enrollment information.

Glendalyn Lewis, a lead teacher at Einstein, as principal for the expansion site, Toranto said. Toranto will become chief executive officer as the organization grows to manage two schools. She asked that a board member sit in on interviews for a principal position at the Einstein 1.

Bennett volunteered to help.

“The decision is yours and I get that you want our input,” Bennett said, “but the decision is yours.”

Board members Bennett, Conway, Laurin Jacobsen, Lauren Pigeon, Emily Danielson and Kathy Litchfield were present for the meeting.  The meeting began at 6:11 p.m. and adjourned at 7:05 p.m.

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