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Pride College Prep leaders prepare to release control to new hands

In their first meeting since the state leaders decided against extending Pride College Prep’s charter, board members overseeing the school grappled Monday with how exactly to turn the campus over to new management.

When the Pride’s charter ends on June 30, 2013, the 330-student school will likely be taken over by ARISE Academy, Pride school leader Michael Richard told the board.

ARISE’s school leader Andrew Shahan, who attended Pride’s meeting, confirmed the plan, saying he’d already been in touch with Recovery School District leaders.

“The RSD has asked for our charter to be implemented at this site,” Shahan told the board.  Shahan said his board would vote on the matter Wednesday, Dec. 19.

ARISE had an additional charter approved at last week’s state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting. RSD then recommended that the charter be used to take over Pride’s campus.  Shahan said his school currently has about 459 students.

“Frankly speaking, it’s a really good situation because we have a lot of respect for Andrew and the team at ARISE,” Richard said.

Looking forward, Richard said his goals are to continue strong instruction, professional development with staff, and provide clear communication to families for the remainder of the year.

“From the legal and financial perspective we are shutting down a school,” Richard said.

He said his responsibilities and those of Finance Director Simone Green would change in the coming months.  He said they both have a lot of questions for the RSD about the turnover process, which he hopes will be answered in a meeting with RSD officials Friday.

Board members, surrounded by a handful of teachers, discussed their new responsibilities.  Board member Scott Jacobs mentioned scraping the current committee structure and forming new committees to address turnover and shut down, rather than things such as development.

“We do want to consider adding an additional incentive program to reward performance and incentivize a strong finish,” Richard told board members.

Richard said incentives would not be limited to instructional staff.  His goal is to retain staff with strong skill sets for the remainder of the year as they may be inclined to take their skills elsewhere, he said.

Chairman Allen Square asked Richard to prepare a few incentive plans or models and said the board could hold a special meeting if necessary to approve a plan.

Board member Gabriel Bordenave wanted the board to meet again before the holidays.

“Teachers know their jobs are ending soon so they’re going to be looking out for their best interests,” said Bordenave.

He worried that if there was uncertainty among staff the winter break would be a time for staff to look for and possibly accept other jobs.  He also stressed that incentives did not have to be financial, but asked Richard to poll his staff and find out what they would be interested in.

“Your point is well taken and well considered,” said Square.

Square added the two school leaders are working together to communicate “early and often” with staff to help prevent attrition.

“I think we should recognize that this is within our purview to establish these incentives,” said board member Sam Joel.

Joel suggested passing a resolution showing staff that a plan was being developed.  Square said he thought the point had come across clear in the meeting.

Richard, playing devil’s advocate, said that a resolution would send a message.

“There’s a certain assumption that underlies that message,” Richard said, “and the assumption is that the culture in the building is not good or that people are thinking about jumping ship.”

Joel clarified that indeed losing employees was what he was trying to prevent, and Richard acknowledged he was only challenging the assumption.

“I think our programs are stronger than ever,” Richard said, adding his teachers work out of passion and not for money.

Despite the discussion, the board did not pass a resolution. Jacobs said the school would be under a new kind of scrutiny.

“It’s all of a sudden everybody’s money,” said Jacobs. The lens by which the school is viewed from the public and press will shift from the school’s performance score to spending, he said.

While discussing how spending would be scrutinized, one member brought up the idea of investing in library materials.  Jacobs said that while this might be seen as normal for a continually operating school, it would be viewed differently now that Pride’s charter has not been extended.

Jacobs best summarized the irony in the situation where the board and staff continue to run a school that will cease to exist on June 30, 2013.

“What can they do?” Jacobs said jokingly. “Take away our charter?”

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