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The NET leaders decide against taking on program for overage middle school students

After weeks of discussion with the Recovery School District, The NET Charter High school leaders say they won’t be expanding to undertake a pilot program for overage middle school students.

The school’s board of directors announced at its May 21 meeting that its leaders had decided against the plan, which RSD officials first proposed as a way to address the needs of students with behavioral and academic struggles.

“Principal Ostberg has worked hard in the last month modeling out what the program would look like,” said Kristina Kent, board president for The NET. “It just became clear we’re not quite ready yet.”

The new 16-student program would have been incorporated into the school in time for the 2013-14 school year. And RSD officials last month offered to help the school find funds to support the program.

Both Kent and Principal Elizabeth Ostberg said they recognize the need for such a program in the city, and they left open the option of adding such a program in the future.

Ostberg also presented the board with a draft of The NET’s $1.64 million 2013-14 budget.

The plan calls for the school to hire one additional staff person and give raises to four people, changes that would contribute to an overall increase of nearly $143,000 in year-over-year expenditures despite flat revenues, according to the school’s figures.

The new position would be an assistant dean/receptionist who would be at the school’s front desk throughout the day, which Ostberg said would free up leadership who currently spend too much time covering there. The salary for the new job is expected to be $28,000 not including benefits.

As to the proposed salary increases, Ostberg said they would go to two teachers and two staff members.* Ostberg said she would like pay to more accurately reflect the employees’ workload and commitment. The proposed raises average about 13.5 percent, she said.

“They’re making average salaries, and these are not average people,” she said. “These are pretty important changes for the growth of the school.”

The NET boasts a 100 percent teacher retention rate, with 16 people on staff. Ostberg called their current salary and benefit plan very competitive.

The board is expected to vote on the budget at its June 25 board meeting.

Spring test results have been calculated, and the number of passing students increased over last year in math and English language arts on both the Graduation Exit Exam and the End of Course exam, Ostberg said.

Low passing percentages are still the norm at the alternative school, however, and Ostberg said she didn’t realize the toll multiple failed attempts can take on students when she set internal goals for the student’s performances.

She hoped to reach a 50 percent passing rate for GEE scores, but results ranged from 20 to 41 percent across four subjects.

She said many of the students who are failing the exam four and five times are at least three years behind, and have the lowest attendance.

The state is phasing out the Graduation Exit Examination (GEE), and Ostberg said the students who are still trying to pass the test are the hardest hit and struggle the most.

“They are all over 18 years old, and have until 21 years old to pass,” Ostberg said. “A lot of kids walk out of high school because of this test.”

Next year, once the test is no longer mandated, schools will still be responsible for administering it to students who have not passed, Ostberg said.

Severe test anxiety and possible undiagnosed learning disabilities are two contributing factors Ostberg listed for repeated failings.

While many failing students are said to be minimally engaged, the students who are present and still unable to pass has Ostberg troubled.

“There’s a pocket of kids I’m most worried about,” Ostberg said. “There are five students we’ve been working with for a year. They can pass their classes, just not the test.”

Passing percentages on the EOC exam were considerably higher than on the GEE, with three of six subjects at or above the school’s internal goal of 60 percent.

There is one more round of testing in June, and the principal called the endeavor one that will be a struggle for years to come.

Board members present at the May 21 meeting were Michelle Brown, Marshall Fitz, Kristina Kent, new member Anna Koehl, Will Kulick, Melissa Lessell, and Principal Ostberg.

The next board meeting and budget adoption is scheduled for June 25 at 6 p.m.

Correction: An earlier version of this story inaccurately stated that four teachers would be receiving pay raises. Principal Elizabeth Ostberg said the proposed 2013-14 budget anticipates pay increases for two teachers and two staff members.

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