FirstLine Schools Inc. welcomed two new board members and announced the long-awaited opening of the new Arthur Ashe Charter School building during its meeting on August 22.

The board unanimously elected Kim Henry and Paul Pechon. Henry is an engineer who has been active at Arthur Ashe Charter School, and Pechon is a CPA and former member of NOLA 180. (The NOLA 180 board governed Langston Hughes Academy until it was dissolved this summer, and Langston Hughes since joined the FirstLine family of schools.)

Arthur Ashe Charter School students began the school year in a brand new building located at 1456 Gardena Drive in Gentilly. The school will serve K-8th grades, and boasts state-of-the-art learning facilities that include computer labs, a black box theater and gymnasium.

The new campus will serve as a home for the Edible School Yard and Gardening center, also known as ESY Nola. The ESY Nola program teaches students the value of nutritious, locally-grown food from “seed to table.” Arthur Ashe students will participate in hands on cooking classes at the school’s two fully-equipped kitchens. The campus also features garden-science classrooms and there are future plans for several themed gardens as well as a one-acre production garden.

There are ESY Nola gardens at each of the five FirstLine charter schools.

Board CEO Jay Altman presented the school board’s five-year strategic plan, which includes academic and financial goals for all FirstLine schools through the year 2016.

“College readiness and focus on staff development are at the top of the list,” said Altman. “We will achieve this by making sure 100 percent of our students are performing at or above grade-level and by focusing on teacher training.”

Altman said Firstline has spent a total of $56,000 through their Leading Educators contract on performance workshops for teachers at each school.

Literacy and math scores are at the core of the strategic plan, though the short-term focus will be on  literacy, according to Altman.

FirstLine is also in the process of integrating “blending learning techniques” at all of their schools.
Altman said blended learning techniques combine computer and teacher instruction in the classroom so students are able to work at their own pace.  The technique also creates ample time for teachers to give one-on-one attention to students who need more focused support.

“This will also help students in the transition to common core standards, which are already in effect and give students the additional instruction they may need to catch up,” said Altman.

Altman said increasing financial health and sustainability are critical to achieving academic goals, and hoped to see a 10 percent fund balance at every school within five years.

“In order to move toward achieving this goal, we hope to have a 2 percent fund balance at the end of each school year over the next five years,” said Altman.

The plan also includes boosting fundraising goals and committee involvement, according to Altman.

The board plans to discuss fundraising efforts at next month’s meeting, scheduled for September 26.