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Board preps for all-encompassing school review; $3.4 million received for improvements

On Sept. 20, the board at Ben Franklin High School received an in-depth look at the upcoming school review process to be conducted by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).  The board discussed enrollment projections, as well as $3.4 million which the school recently received from the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB).

Shannon Antoine, who heads the English department, discussed what the board and school should do to prepare for spring visit from SACS.

“SACS works with internal and external reviews,” Antoine said. “The internal review is us– we do the work, collect data, judge ourselves, collect artifacts, write narratives, and the final result is a self assessment.”

Andrew explained that the all-encompassing review works from five standards.

1. Purpose and Direction: the school’s vision and mission statement.

2. Governance and Leadership: the board and administration.

3. The Teaching and Evaluation process: the relationship between students and teachers, among other things.

4. Various Services: counselors, service workers, technology.

5. Generic: the schools commitment to continuous improvement.

The Teaching and Evaluation component was noted as the most heavily weighed portion.

Antoine, who has previously served on a SACS board, stressed the importance of everyone’s participation in the process. “Last time they read that it wasn’t a total involvement (by the board) and didn’t like that,” Antoine said.

Antoine advised board members to fill out their self-assessments individually and then come together to see where there are variations. The board must produce a final document as a whole, scoring various categories from one to four, four being the highest score. She noted that the process “creates a great dialogue” between board members.

The school must have all self-assessments completed by Nov. 30, and the site visit for interviews and observation will be held March 13 -14, 2013. SACS’s mission is “the improvement of education in the south through accreditation.”

Brett Bonin, District 3 representative from the OPSB, was present at the start of the meeting to make note of $3.4 million given to Ben Franklin for “warm, safe and dry” school improvements. “You will be able to tell our administration what you want to do with the money,” Bonin said.

CEO/Principal Dr. Timothy Rusnak and Data Manager Dave Ferris delivered a presentation on past, present and future enrollment numbers.

“From 2008 up to now we’ve had a 47 percent increase in students,” Rusnak said. “You can get to a tipping point when it’s not Franklin anymore.”

Ferris explained that the school enrolled over 900 students during the five years leading up to Hurricane Katrina. Current enrollment is 792, and projections estimate a steady climb back up over the 900-student mark.

“I think we have this year and next year and then we need to get our arms around some of this,” Rusnak said. He noted there are currently 39 classrooms in use at various times throughout the day, with an average of 22 students per room.

Rusnak and Ferris agreed that three computer labs could be easily converted to traditional classrooms to accommodate future growth.

The board discussed the possibility of capping admissions to control growth. Many board members said the first step would be to decide on a “magic” enrollment number, after which the current physical space becomes too crowded. Once a number is picked, the administration can decide if and when enrollment should be capped.

“The danger in cutting (admissions) off is you run the risk of being a closed shop,” Rusnak said.

The board held a 10-minute executive session to “discuss evaluation of the CEO/Principal,” and immediately adjourned after returning to open session.

The Sept. 20 meeting came to order at 4:11 p.m. and adjourned at 6:30 p.m. The next scheduled board meeting is Oct. 18 at 4 p.m. in the school library.

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