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Lycee plan grapples with fundraising and envisions grades through high school

The board of Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans adopted a five-year school development plan and new policies at their meeting Monday night.

Board chair Dr. Lisa Tropez Arceneaux presented the development plan. It lays out general targets for the organization’s growth. Members stressed the plan was a “living document,” subject to change. Chairman Tim Gray said the facilities committee, in particular, should weigh in on aspects related to their areas of responsibility.

The first year focuses on developing overall fundraising plans and hiring a full-time development director. Applications for that position are due Feb. 14, as are those for director of admissions*.

In later years, the plan envisions using donor-tracking software, hiring a full-time grant writer, and eventually establishing an endowment. It describes past fundraising successes, but also identifies challenges the organization faces, such as broadening the enrollment to include more at-risk students.

Tying admissions to French proficiency has limited access and excluded the school from grants for underserved student populations. These issues have led to recent to changes in leadership and a spate of negative media coverage.

The document begins by setting forth the school’s eventual goal of establishing Lycée Français middle and high schools.

Charles Varley, a parent, commented on the background section of the document, which lists previous successes and failures. He cited several events listed as Lycée development efforts that were actually orchestrated by parent groups.

“This isn’t an us and them. This isn’t the crazies trying to take over the school. … We’ve lost a lot of opportunities to develop,” he said.

Asked about his comments after the meeting, Varley said that there had been “many positive changes since the new board was seated,” but that contractors responsible for school development had underperformed at grant-writing. “There has been no performance evaluation,” he said.

Amy George-Hirons, another parent, told the board she had an underprivileged childhood and that her parents would not have been able to donate money to a school. She said that she did not think there was “ill intent” by the board, but that charging $85 for the annual Fête de la Musique ($125 for VIP tickets at the “early bird” rate) could price some parents out of attendance.

“I don’t see anything in this plan that helps those parents contribute equally,” she said. “Development is more than just money. I would like a plan that includes building community.”

The plan includes an incentive program whereby “room parents” — volunteers who help facilitate communication with the parents of other students at that grade level — will keep track of parent donations to the school. The class with the highest percentage would be entered into a drawing to win a free enrichment class.

Arceneaux stressed that the size of the donations didn’t matter; the contest would be judged on the number of participants.

Board member Mary Jacobs Jones gave a facilities update. She said the school is in discussion with St. Paul’s United Church of Christ for possible classroom space. She said the proximity of the church to the school’s Patton Street campus was appealing. The Lycée’s pre-school is on South Claiborne; the elementary grades are on Patton.

The school will hold its annual Fête de la Musique on March 16, with Kermit Ruffins headlining.

Also present were vice chair Alysson Mills, members Ann Meese, Courtney Garrett, Ben Castoriano, Erin Greenwald, and Michael Williams*, as well as Lycée Français parents and staff.

Correction: As first published, the article misstated the staff position being advertised and gave a wrong first name for board member Williams.  

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