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Morris Jeff board focuses on governance

Board members for the Morris Jeff Community School spent much of their Dec. 11 meeting shoring up ways they hope to strengthen their governance over the 275-student campus.

The board, which has already started holding monthly workshops to educate board members, formally assigned the following board committees.

Finance: treasurer Melissa Jagers and Jennifer Weishaupt.

Governance: board president Aesha Rasheed, vice president Wanda Anderson-Guillaume, secretary Belinda Cambre and Stacey Gengel.

Fund development: Jolene Jeff, Anderson-Guillaume, Jagers and Gengel.

Rasheed said that while the board already has great participation with the school, the distribution of committee responsibilities had become a bit muddled.

The board also decided on two ad hoc working groups that would not be standing committees. These will eventually include non-board members as well. The initial members are:

Community engagement: Weishaupt, Rasheed and Jeff.

Academic achievement: Gengel, Anderson-Guillaume and Cambre.

In order to avoid burdening calendars with yet another meeting, Rasheed proposed to split the regular board meeting in alternating months.

Starting in February, and in the even months of next year, the first hour of board meetings would be dedicated to committee reports. Rasheed conceded that this structure might not be ideal, as the finance report is a major part of the current meeting structure, but they could start with governance, and gradually integrate the new arrangement.

Principal Patricia Perkins and finance and operations director Jared Frank updated the board on the administration’s progress in completing requirements for its annual financial audit. Though RSD conducted the audit in October, Frank has a few more items for their review. He said that although there is a new auditor this year, he is optimistic that there haven’t been any big surprises.

The school will receive the audit report by Dec. 31, and it will be emailed to board members. Rasheed emphasized that while the board can view it and possibly respond with small edits, any conversation on the report must be public, and cannot happen over email. Discussing the audit at the next meeting will also help maintain the members’ financial literacy, she said.

Rasheed would also like the board to have a better understanding of Compass, the state’s new tool for evaluating teachers and school leaders.

Since the board evaluates school leaders, Rasheed suggested that two members go through the process of better understanding Compass and how to set goals for those being evaluated. Perkins thought this would take about 30 minutes of a development meeting, and hoped that it could happen early next year.

The board has been holding monthly educational sessions for members, known as development meetings.

The first one, on Nov. 12, was to acquaint the board with the process of becoming an International Baccalaureate school. Morris Jeff is a candidate to become an IB World School. In a discussion of open meeting laws, the board was uncertain whether to open the November meeting to the public.

Subsequent development meetings are now open, and the second one was held immediately before Tuesday’s board meeting.

Ryan Ruyle, the dean of students and director of special education, presented on special education goals and on relevant disabilities legislation. He broke down the evaluation process for special needs, and discussed ways to integrate special needs students into all classrooms. Board members noted that when they were in school, special education students were much more segregated from other students than they are now. They also got some ideas on the best ways to approach discipline for special needs kids, who are often perceived by other students to get away with more.

In the principal’s report, Perkins announced that the school would receive the Believe and Include grant. The grant is shared with three other schools (McDonough City Park Academy, Andrew H. Wilson Charter School and New Orleans Charter Math and Science High), and each will receive $50,000 in special education funding for technology.

Perkins said that all children at the school will benefit from this significant tech development, with more laptops, iPads and powerful learning software. The school will hold a reception to celebrate the new funding.

The 6:48 p.m. meeting adjourned at 7:39 p.m. The next board meeting will be Jan. 17.
The 5:45 p.m. development meeting was held immediately before the board meeting. The January development meeting has not yet been scheduled.

Board members Melissa Jagers, Jolene Jeff and Jana Smith were absent. The audience consisted of a reporter from The Lens.

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