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Tubman charter principal hones in on testing as second year draws to a close

As her school nears the close of its second year, Harriet Tubman Charter School Principal Julie Lause said she is working to boost student test scores.

The school’s first year was mainly focused on establishing routines, creating clear behavior expectations and “really getting the culture off the ground,” she said.

Lause presented her plan for academic growth to the board that runs the school at a January meeting.

Board members also discussed student recruitment at Paul Habans Elementary. The charter management organization that runs Tubman and Akili Academy, Crescent City Schools, is slated to run Habans next year.

Crescent City took over Tubman in 2011 after the school failed to meet state academic goals under its former charter operator, the Algiers Charter School Association. Although the school’s performance score has jumped 11 points under the organization – from a 55 to a 66 – it’s not as high as school leaders would like. Under state rules, the minimum passing score is 75 on a 200-point scale.

In recent meetings, board members have discussed inviting experts who specialize in turning around failing schools to speak to Crescent City about whether Tubman is on the right track compared to its counterparts around the country. Although many of the city’s schools, Tubman included, participate in an interim testing program that compares student results from 65 of Louisiana’s schools, the board is interested in results from more schools that match Tubman’s size and student achievement levels.

Talks at these meetings will likely continually turn to academic growth as the organization preps its students to take state’s high-stakes tests this spring.

Lause primarily relies on interim test data to track academic success, she said. Teachers have been raising the stakes this year by introducing lessons whenever possible during the day, such as having kids perform sight-reading work while walking the hallways to lunch.

“Every single minute of every single day is purposeful,” Lause said.

*Students have shown gains on interim tests. Still, board member Tim Bryant said those gains should also be reflected in the school’s state test scores. “I think, and I hope the rest of the board agrees with me, that we really need to see a push in scores,” he said.

Soon after, the talk turned to the organization’s progress in reaching out to families who will attend Habans next year. RSD has guaranteed spots at Habans to all of the school’s current students as well as kids from the nearby Murray Henderson Elementary School, which is closing at the end of the school year. The Recovery School District’s round of parent meetings earlier that month were not well-publicized or well-attended, CEO Kate Mehok said.

“We are getting all the addresses of all the Habans and Henderson kids, so we can do door to door, pass out flyers, have events,” she said.

Board vice chairman Coleman Ridley asked whether Mehok has gotten any negative feedback from the Habans and Henderson principals. Mehok is appointing Litouri Smith as principal of Habans, replacing the school’s current principal Desmond Morris. *Litouri was a school principal fellow for Crescent City Schools and served for some time as assistant principal at Tubman.

“So far, everyone has been really accommodating,” Mehok said.

Mekok said that recruiting kids will be different this year, because the organization is using OneApp, the city’s centralized school enrollment process, for the first time to bring kids to the new school.

If Habans students don’t turn in an enrollment application, they will automatically get assigned to Habans — regardless of whether they want to attend the school under Crescent City’s leadership. That’s a problem, Mehok said, “because those families will most likely not show up. If they don’t want to come, then they’re not going to come.”

That could affect the school’s enrollment projections.

After accepting and approving Akili Academy’s audit, which had no findings, the board discussed new grants. The Louisiana Department of Education distributed $150,000 in federal charter school start-up funding to Crescent City to fund its expansion to Habans. Half of that cash comes from a pool intended for all new charter schools, and the other half funds “turnaround” schools in high-need areas.

The organization also received $20,000 from the Rex organization’s Pro Bono Publico Foundation, which donated $545,000 in January to several charter schools, to Teach For America Greater New Orleans, and to other education reform organizations.

Board members adjourned the meeting just over an hour after they’d started. Vice chair Ridley, Burvant, Agnieska McPeak, board treasurer Doug Harrell, and Julius Kimbrough, Jr., were among the board members in attendance. Board chairman JP Hymel was absent.

* Correction: Tim Bryant is a board member for Crescent City Schools. An earlier version of this story had his name wrong. Also, incoming Paul Habans Elementary Principal Litouri Smith was a school principal fellow for Crescent City Schools and served for some time as assistant principal at Harriet Tubman Charter School. An earlier version of this story was unclear on that point.

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