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FirstLine board plans to move Dibert to Wheatley site by 2014-15 school year

John Dibert Community School is gearing up to move into a $25 million newly constructed Phillis Wheatley School facility next year.

FirstLine Schools board of directors discussed Dibert at length during its monthly meeting Feb. 27.

The 435-student K-8 school is slated to leave its current location at 4217 Orleans Ave. in July of 2014, and relocate to a new building that is currently under construction at 2300 Dumaine St., the former site of the Wheatley School, which was torn down in 2011 amid some controversy.

Dibert’s move is expected to be completed in time for the 2014-15 school year.

“We did the same thing with Ashe,” FirstLine CEO Jay Altman said, referring to Arthur Ashe Charter School, another FirstLine school that moved into a brand new facility in August of 2012.

According to FirstLine’s facilities committee chairman, Brian Egana, extensive negotiations have taken place ensuring that the board will not be responsible for any rent increases, once the subleasing agreement is signed.

“We are in the last step of the process,” board member Greg St. Etienne said.

The federal government has allotted $2 million in tax credit equity to the new building’s construction. The money comes from the New Market Tax Credit program, a government assistance program designed to spur business investments in low-income communities.

Later in the meeting, Dibert School Director Diana Archuleta led a presentation featuring projected digital spreadsheets that gave data on student performance as well as demographics and population figures at the school.

One chart, which featured data from a test called DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Early Literary Skills), showed positive growth in reading levels of Dibert students in kindergarten through third-grade.

For example, 23 percent of kindergarten students required intensive instruction in order to acquire age-appropriate reading levels at the beginning of the current school year. By the middle of the year, that number had dropped to 10 percent, which, Archuleta said, “represents four children, two of whom have been identified as special education.”

Out of school suspensions peaked in October and November, with 28 at the lower school (K-4) over those two months and 33 at the upper school (5-8), according to data shared during the meeting. By comparison, there were only six suspensions in August, all at the lower school. And in December, there were nine suspensions, all at the middle school.

Despite these disciplinary actions, no expulsions have been necessary at Dibert: “This is an area where Dibert is reflective of the rest of our schools,” Altman said. “We hardly have any expulsions.”

Dibert currently has 435 students, and 66 staff members, a six-to-one ratio. Ninety-eight percent of the students qualify for a free or reduced-price meal plan because they come from low-income homes.

Other items discussed at the meeting included reports from FirstLine’s finance, development, facilities and governance committees.

Stephen Rosenthal, chairman of the finance committee said that FirstLine was operating within its budget. But he said Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High, the board’s only high school, was $30,000 behind its original budget, due to a shortfall in enrollment.

“We’re actually ahead of where we need to be, although issues at Clark need to be resolved,” said Rosenthal.

The development committee chairperson, Cathy Pierson, said that $390,000 still needs to be raised for planned expansion of  Personalized Learning, a computer-assisted instructional program aimed at catering learning to individual students. The committee is also trying to raise money to buy band uniforms for Clark.

Pierson said the board did receive $2 million in federal grants for each school’s special education program, as well as $25,000 from the Pro Bono Publico Foundation, and $5,000 to go toward the Edible Schoolyard program from the Ella West Freeman Foundation. Pro Bono Publico donated $25,000 last year, as well.

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  • nickelndime

    So that’s why the OPSB [Usdin, Bloom, Koppel, Ellison, Marshall, ...5 yeas (Cade absent) with Thomas voting ney] had to have the special meeting to approve the “Wheatley” project ASAP! FirstLIne (Dibert) is moving into the building. (1) ‘…board member Greg St. Etienne said” (former Landrieu Deputy Mayor resigns amid conflict of interests – nonprofit loans thru Liberty Bank to family members; (2) Jay Altman – the 6million-dollar public education man, favored by BESE/LDOE…; (3) Stephen Rosenthal – brother of Leslie – on numerous boards… Could the plot get any thicker!