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Retreat sparks discussion of school goals, board members' roles

At an August 18 board retreat, members of the board that governs Crescent City Schools discussed long-term goals and end of the year reports for the two schools they run, and defined their own roles and responsibilities.

Board members also heard from Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools executive director Caroline Roemer Shirley, who discussed the importance of following applicable laws, getting parents involved, and the educational landscape in Louisiana generally.

The retreat was held at Jones Walker Law Firm on St. Charles Avenue, and it lasted close to six hours.

School-level goals

One of the school-level goals that sparked discussion was the goal of having 90 percent of families at the organization’s two schools, Harriet Tubman Charter School and Akili Academy, return to their respective schools this year.

Board members wondered what impact the statewide private-school voucher program would have on Tubman’s enrollment. Because Tubman was deemed failing by state academic standards last year, its lower-income families qualify to receive vouchers to attend private schools.

Chief executive officer Kate Mehok said that while New Orleans has always had vouchers, they have never been publicized this heavily. In short, she doesn’t know what the outcomes will be, she said.

“I do not believe that most of the schools in New Orleans that are offering vouchers are any better then the two schools that I run,” she added. “I don’t want to be losing kids to vouchers, that seems bad to me.”

Other school-level goals discussed included the aim to have a 95 percent daily student attendance rate and a 90 percent faculty retention rate at both schools.

End of year reports

The conversation eventually turned to end of the year reports, with the number of Tubman and Akili students reading on grade level or above becoming a main topic of discussion. The numbers for Tubman were significantly lower than the state standardized test scores that were presented to the board in June.

Board member Tim Bryant, noting the discrepancy between the reading scores and the state test scores, asked Mehok: “What’s the difference between what we were presented then and what we’re seeing now?”

Mehok responded that students didn’t necessarily have to be reading on grade level to pass the state’s end of the year tests.

“At Tubman, it became a lot about ‘basic or above’, because that’s how you get judged across the state,” Mehok said. “But ‘basic’ doesn’t get you to college.”

Board chairman JP Hymel said that there shouldn’t be that big of a difference between reading scores and state test scores. “I would say that the state’s not setting a high enough bar,” he said.

After board members had a discussion about the many kindergarteners entering schools who were non-verbal and whether that contributed to below-average reading scores, Hymel said that the board should think about admitting pre-kindergarteners to its schools.

Roles and responsibilities

Board members broke into an hour-long session to discuss goals of the board’s four committees – governance committee, a strategic planning committee, a finance committee, and a development committee. Those goals included conducting board training and education, and establishing revenue goals, among others.

Additionally, board members received a primer on open-meetings laws, and were informed of the organization’s media and communications policy. When reporters contact a board member, the standard practice is to refer them to Mehok or to Hymel, board secretary Agnieszka McPeak said.

Board member Mary Lee Murphy also chimed in.  “Show your eagerness to help them and make that connection. Ask them, ‘what’s your deadline, let me help get you to the right person.’”

McPeak noted that Crescent City’s board is a “public board,” which “goes to great lengths to make sure we are following all the laws applicable to us.”

Guest speaker

Shirley, of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, also mentioned the importance of following applicable laws to the board.

“When you don’t follow the rules and regulations, you make it really hard for me to advocate for you,” she told board members.

In addition, Shirley talked about the importance of building relationships with parents, to help them understand the charter school movement, and feel comfortable enough to advocate for it in the legislature.

“It’s (one thing) for you as a board member to go to the table. But it’s very different for a parent to go to the legislature and say that ‘I want my choice, I want it now, and don’t mess with that.’”

At the same time, Shirley cautioned against going to parents just “when we need them…that’s not genuine.”

The board’s next meeting is on September 19 at 6 p.m. at Tubman.

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