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Low school score does not doom charter extension – but improvements are needed

Correction: An earlier edition of this article was revised to eliminate two errors: Success Prep is up for an extension of its charter, not its renewal. And the added process of evaluation since the Abramson High School scandal will focus on boards as entities of school governance, not the performance of individual board members.

At their monthly meeting, March 3, Success Preparatory Academy’s board of directors heard from Adam Hawf, executive director of the Recovery School District’s Office of School Oversight Performance and the person who will be recommending whether to extend the school’s charter.

Success Prep is up for charter renewal extension next year, and Hawf seemed optimistic about the school’s chances, despite an “F” school performance score (54.5). The standard score for charter renewal – as distinguished from extension – is 75 or above.

A “probationary” extension of the charter is attainable by schools that, despite a low school performance score, show improvement in areas of evaluation that include discipline, attendance and special education as well as academic performance.

“If there’s a school below 75, but doing a good job of educating students, it would be very difficult to recommend against renewal  (extension),” Hawf said. “I’d be more interested in how you’ve been moving the students.”

In addition to scheduled site visits and a full evaluation of the school, its staff and student progress, Hawf said part of his recommendation will be an evaluation of the board itself members themselves. He said this is the first year boards will be evaluated in this manner.

A more focused evaluation of board members boards comes in the wake of a scandal at Abramson High School in New Orleans East, which was shut down amid allegations of bribery by administrators and failure to properly report an alleged sexual incident involving two five-year-old students.

“After the Abramson scandal, we took a hard look at charter oversight,” Hawf told Success Prep board members. Board members Boards will be evaluated on hitting the goals outlined in the school charter, including school performance, education standards, parent complaints, financial accountability and contractual issues.

“We want to (have) a team on the ground so we’re not surprised by daily oversight,” Hawf said.

But the most important thing for Success Prep’s charter renewal extension is improved student test scores, Hawf stressed. He cautioned that while he could grant the school a “probationary” charter next year, higher test scores will be needed to get a full charter extension. The next standardized testing for students will be in April.

“Do you need to get 75 to get extended? No. Do you need to do a lot of things right? Absolutely,” Hawf said. “What does your enrollment and disciplinary behavior say about your commitment to students? Are you providing certain accommodations for special-education students?”

Upper school principal St. Claire Adriaan was adamant that Success Prep is succeeding beyond its “F” school performance score.

Adriaan, also a teacher at Success Prep, told Hawf it’s been a challenge to maintain high student test scores over the past two years since the school accepts students in upper grades who come from other elementary schools.

“In two years time, we haven’t been given a fair chance to get them to where they (need to be),” he said. “Anywhere else, the (charter has) four to five years to (get students) where they want to be.”

He commended the teachers for pushing the students and said there was a time when almost 80 percent of the students were at least two grades behind in reading.

“I know where we came from in 2009 to where we are right now, and as a veteran educator, I’m proud,” Adriaan told Hawf. “An ‘F’ on my school record is not what I want because this is not ‘F’ work we are doing here.”

State officials are impressed by boards that push school leaders to set rigorous school goals and then track whether those goals are being met, Hawf said.

Hawf left after his presentation.

Regarding student achievement, benchmark test scores have shown improvement, although math scores are declining. School-wide, 52 percent of students are at grade level in English and language arts, just below the average 54 percent among other schools. In math, 54 percent of students are at grade level compared to 56 percent among other schools.

In staffing news, the school has listed two open teaching positions. A recruiting effort is targeting teachers who match the demographic of the students, most of whom are African Americans.

In other business, board members voted to support the expulsion of a student who had threatened a teacher with a knife. When the school counselor was informed of the threat, the student was taken by police for psychological evaluation and medication, Adriaan said. The student returned to school two days later, but board members said the incident warranted an expulsion.

“If I were a faculty member, I would be concerned (about) showing the students that if you do this to one of us, it’s OK and you can come back to school,” board member Sassy Wheeler said.

Board member Kathryn Broussard added, “We need to demonstrate (this) as a board; we need to get swift and appropriate action immediately.”

The board has reached 52 percent of its $60,000 goal for fund raising for the 2011-12 school year. Teachers said they’d like the board to find money to improve classroom technology.

Board member Sean Singleton is moving out of Louisiana and has resigned as a board member, the board was advised.

The board’s next meeting is April 5.


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