Optimism and enthusiasm abounded as the McDonogh City Park Academy board met Aug. 21 to kick off the new school year.

“What a difference a year makes,” board member Jim Nelson said, reflecting on a recent stroll through the school. His colleagues shared similar impressions based on last week’s meet and greet for parents, staff and board members.

Principal Christine Mitchell said motivated new teachers have reinvigorated the faculty, veteran teachers included, and inspired a greater collective commitment to providing top-quality  education. The school is feeding this sense of commitment by offering professional development through the Teacher Advancement Program, or TAP.

TAP, now in its third year, features rigorous teacher evaluation and feedback, continual professional development and performance-based incentives for teachers and students alike.  “This is going to bring us to the next level,” Mitchell said.

With 74 percent of last year’s students having returned, 151 new students bring current enrollment to 411. Based on that figure, per-student state allocations and other revenue is sufficient to meet projected budgetary needs, Keeanya Dupre, director of finance and operations, said.

But getting these 411 students to school has been an issue, Dupre said. Due to ongoing litigation between the Recovery School District and Durham School Services, the school made a last-minute switch to a different bus company, Hammond Transportation.

That has required working out a lot of scheduling and routing challenges, Dupre said, acknowledging that there have been complaints from some parents.

“It has been kind of crazy, but it is slowing down,” Dupre said.  The school distributed letters to parents detailing the new busing arrangements.

The upside of the change is “more control at the school level,” Dupre said, plus savings of $15 per day for each of the seven buses under contract.

Inside the school walls, students have behaved well thus far, with only a handful of detentions distributed, the board was told. The administration hopes the trend continues with the help of Kickboard, an online program that allows teachers and staff to document and track positive and negative student behavior in real-time. With an emphasis on positive reinforcement, teachers and staff can reward or rescind “dollars” for appropriate and inappropriate behavior.

Mitchell reported that the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently bestowed a “Gold Award of Distinction” upon the school as part of its Healthier US School Challenge, a program to foster physical activity and better eating habits.

In addition to Nelson and Waterfield, board members present included Mary Kay Parker, Laura Charbonnet, Thomas Hooks, Lee Hampton, Michael Plemer, Monica Candal and Brittany Major; Michael Bagot was absent.  Alongside Mitchell and Dupre were administrators Sheila Hebert and Carmelite Price.  A reporter from The Lens was the only member of the general public in attendance.

The board next meets at 5:30 pm, Sept. 18.