The board of E.P. Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy held their first meeting of the academic year on September 12 at 6:20 p.m. Four of the seven board members were present: Jesse Hills Jr., Arthur Williams Jr., Ashton Ryan Jr., and board president Pastor Charles J. Southall III. Absentees were Gregory Mason, Kirk Reasonover and Clinton Smith Jr.

Principal Eileen Williams sat with the board. Seven members of the public were in attendance.

A key topic of discussion was the school’s contract with Sodexo, which holds a maintenance contract. Sean Berner, a financial consultant to the board reiterated the school’s grievances with Sodexo. He said a letter was sent to Sodexo on outlining complaints. Berner said Harney would decide whether to cancel the Sodexo contract based on the company’s response to the letter. Principal Williams later said Sodexo will have two weeks to rectify problems.

Harney Chief Financial Officer Marlene Wade presented details of the school’s current $2.9 million operating budget.

Berner followed Wade’s presentation with an update on the benefits Harney offers its teachers. Unlike many other local schools, Harney offers its teachers a 403(b) retirement plan, which he said was a “very good recruiting tool.”

Enrollment stands at 363 students,  one less than the school closed with last year. The goal is to bring that number to 400 by the start of October when official enrollment is counted.

In addition to a partnership with the Children’s Museum, a new music teacher from Artist Corps New Orleans, and the development of a male mentor program with Mahalia Jackson Elementary, Harney is also working to incorporate the I Can Learn program, a computer-based education tool. Williams said she is “pleased” with I Can Learn, so far.

There are also 10 clubs on campus this fall.

Williams enthused about the continued implementation of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports on campus. The PBIS program rewards positive behavior and accomplishments and is seen as a way to improve morale and reduce suspensions. One goal is to “make kids realize why they are in school,” Williams said. Students are rewarded with “Harney Bucks” for positive behavior, taking responsibility and showing respect. They can then cash in their bucks for rewards. Student enthusiasm for PBIS is high; “If Harney Bucks were real, we’d all be rich,” Williams said. Last year, Harney got a perfect PBIS rating and so far this year, there have been no serious incidents of misbehavior, Williams said.

The meeting concluded at 7 p.m., directly following a 15-minute executive session where members discussed budget issues. Executive sessions are closed to the public.