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Kleban floats idea of managing Cohen High, as alternative to merger with Booker T

The board of directors of New Orleans College Preparatory Academies met Monday to discuss newly released Recovery School District building assignments.  The Board has opposed the RSD’s proposed merger of Walter L. Cohen and Booker T. Washington high schools.

Members present at the meeting included President Hal Brown, Chairman Kenneth Polite, Vice Chairman Murray Pitts, Secretary Rick Conway, Treasurer Ruth Kullman, and members Jim Raby, Monica Edwards, and Peter Harding.  Also in attendance was Ben Kleban, College Prep’s founder and executive director.

Kleban began with a review of student academic progress in the second quarter.  He showed the board graphs of student testing in four subjects, broken down by elementary, middle, and high school averages.  Middle school scores improved or remained near projected goals in English language arts, science, and social studies, though fell slightly in math.  At the elementary level, the students scored low in science and social studies, but very well in math.

Kleban said the rates of attendance are 95 percent in elementary school, 93 percent in middle school, and 83% for the high school.

“High school is still a really sore spot,” Kleban said, initiating a discussion by the board of the difficulties of enforcing attendance with high school students.

As regards building assignments, the RSD list assigns the Booker T. Washington building to an as yet unnamed high school under the New Orleans College Prep charter.  Cohen is being phased out, grade by grade, a process that ends when current tenth-graders graduate in 2014.

The board, which has supported keeping both high schools open, is reviewing its options.  One suggestion, proposed by  Kleban, is that College Prep take over management of the Cohen phase-out.

“It’s not a charter, and it’s not a takeover.  It’s a management contract,” Kleban said.

Many Board members expressed concern that College Prep would be blamed for Cohen’s poor performance if it took over managing the school. Kleban said he shared this concern but that managing Cohen could be educational for the Board.

“We are an open-enrollment school.  We have a lot of kids who enroll at 17 or 18.  College prep, at that point, becomes less and less likely,” he said.  “We’re getting these kids who need something else, so we need to find a way to provide it.”

Kleban then updated the board on a disciplinary incident involving a special needs student who became violent.  Kleban said the student was removed from the classroom and given separate instruction.

“Our understanding was that we were still in compliance with the law,” Kleban said.  “The Louisiana Department of Education stepped in and said that we were not.”  The student still attends NOCP, and according to the school has been improving.

The meeting was concluded at 6:27 p.m.

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