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Board frets that rival schools may poach students – especially fifth-graders

Board members are concerned that families will move their children to other schools before the fall term starts, now that Success Prep has fallen into the “academically unacceptable” category, based on its school performance score for 2011.

The school is one of nearly 30 run by the Recovery School District in New Orleans that has received a failing performance score. That gives families the option of switching their children to a higher-performing school.

But at the board’s monthly meeting, Aug. 2, lower school principal Niloy Gangopadhyay expressed confidence that parents will remain generally loyal to Success Prep. He said calls have gone out to parents outlining Success Prep’s improving academic numbers.

Nevertheless, board members remained concerned, especially since next year’s budget relies heavily on an accurate estimate of student enrollment. That budget is on the agenda for a vote next month.

“We should be paranoid about this,” board member Jack Carey said.  He said he’s hearing that other schools are recruiting students from failing schools in order to beef up their own enrollment – especially in fifth-grade classes.

Gangopadhyay told board members that upper school principal Adriaan St. Claire does not expect serious attrition of fifth-graders. Still, he said, “The thing that keeps me up at night is enrollment numbers.”

Gangopadhyay said letters from the state have been sent to all parents at Success Prep about their options. But he acknowledged that other schools have started calling Success Prep parents to try and get them to switch.

“I don’t know what the (enrollment number) damages might be, but we’ve already put out calls to parents. We’re not saying, ‘Here’s where we are.’ We’re saying, ‘We are really excited that you’re coming here.’ We’re not mentioning anything about (the score).”

Board members suggested school leaders let parents know exactly what’s going on so that they’re not surprised if another school calls.

“Don’t underestimate,” board member Kathryn Broussard said.

“I’d call them again and say, ‘You may hear from someone, and this is what you need to know,’” board member Ben Blanchard said. “The sooner we address it openly, it’s easier for them to say (to other school), ‘Yes we already know about it.’ We definitely know that one particular grade might be getting poached.”

Families have until Aug. 20 to make a decision about where to send their children next semester.

Gangopadhyay said the school’s leaders are more concerned about filling the kindergarten class. He said the school’s low performance score was partially due to low attendance numbers that school leaders didn’t realize would be factored into the score so heavily.

In other business, the school filed the necessary documents to request a charter extension for a fifth year. That decision is up to state officials.

The board will vote on its 2012-13 budget at its September meeting.

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