Cash flow concerns, student achievement and the draft of a three-year development plan were the focus of greatest attention at the monthly meeting of the Benjamin E. Mays Preparatory Academy charter school board, on Oct. 24.

Board members Sidney Barthelemy, Kristen Ponthier, John Williams, and Todd James were present; member Morgan Williams participated by phone. Also present: the school’s principal, Shandra Gentry, and finance director, Brent Washington. Board members  Jenny Hunter, Raashand Hamilton, Damon Burns, and Jasmine Haralson were absent.    The only member of the public was a reporter for The Lens.  There were no motions or votes.

In a school leader update, Gentry reported no personnel changes and said  enrollment is slightly lower than projected, though higher in first- and fourth- grade than expected.

The school uses the STEP assessment program, and although STEP testing typically stops at third grade the school tests fourth graders as well to determine if some students are behind their peers. The school groups students in the mornings according to their STEP levels so as to be able to best teach to a student’s level of ability. A majority of students are testing below grade level, Gentry said.

The school is taking a number of measures to improve parental involvement. To that end, Gentry said she has formed a Parental Involvement Committee, compromised of parents and school officials. Ponthier suggested that one member from the committee attend board meetings and that a board member attend PIC meetings. Additionally, report cards will be handed out only to parents who attend parent-teacher conferences – a long-standing rule that will now be strictly enforced. Conferences have been extended for a week to allow more flexibility for parents with scheduling problems.

The school hosted an awards party in October and will continue to do so on a quarterly basis, as a way to praise students and include parents in celebration of their success.

Finance director Washington said school expenses will likely rise by $7,000 this year.  The school paid off a line of credit with Building Hope and cash will be tight come spring, if they can not get another line of credit.  The school does not have the collateral that is usually required. Board members stressed they are not over-budget, but will be dealing with a cash flow issue.  The board plans to consult other schools in similar situations and continue to investigate potential lenders.

“We need to make this priority number one,” Ponthier said.

Reporting on the still forming development committee, Williams said it will consist of two appointed school staff and meet with him and Ponthier.  In addition to focusing on a capital campaign, the committee will encourage the school to expand its online presence and, printed materials, and programming.

In casual conversation about additional programming, board members said they hoped to see music and sports added to extracurricular options. Gentry said she advocates starting a pre-kindergarten class as well. “This is the lowest kindergarten class we’ve ever had,” she cautioned.

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...