Almost a dozen teachers attended the last Success Preparatory Academy Board of Directors meeting and heard about the school’s plans to move from a two-leader model to one-leader model next school year.
Co-founder and upper school Principal St. Claire Adriaan turned in his resignation in early May, announcing he will be moving to Texas after this school year to work for a charter school network to help it expand.
Lower school Principal Niloy Gangopadhyay is scheduled to take over as the sole school leader; board members made this decision at a special May 6 meeting.
Adriaan’s departure means the board must make changes to the school’s 2012-13 budget and policy manual.
Gangopadhyay said during a May 15 board meeting that he would appoint a member of the staff to be an upper school leader in Adriaan’s absence, and would do so within a week.
“It’s a big decision people are waiting for,” Gangopadhyay said. The process consists of considering those who have been around the school a long time and who have the appropriate skills. “There are quite a few people who are part of that process,” he said.
He said he was looking at staff in all grades, not just the upper grades.
Adriaan spoke about his departure during the May 15 meeting, saying that he turned down an opportunity to work with Oprah at her school in Africa in order to come to New Orleans to help with the charter school movement in the city.
He came down with Gangopadhyay five years ago, after the two worked in schools in Cleveland.
“It’s a bittersweet decision I had to make. I am saddened to leave, but I know that I leave behind a capable bunch of teachers and leaders who will continue to good work that’s been done over the past few years,” Adriaan said. “I am very certain that if no major changes take place, things can only get better.”
The school has four teacher vacancies for the upcoming school year. Board members said they wanted to make sure the school retains its staff, despite losing a leader.
Addressing Adriaan, Board Chairman Anderson Baker said, “You were well-liked by the teachers, and your departure will be sharply felt by everyone. Staff retention may be a question mark to some, but my discussion with Niloy [Gangopadhyay] is that there is no significant change in that area.”
Although given the opportunity to ask questions, none of the teachers made public comments or asked specific questions of the board.
Another big topic discussed was the number of student suspensions at Success Prep.
Board members got a report of suspensions for the 2012-13 school year and saw that for fourth grade, there were 28 days where at least one student was kept at home because of bad behavior. That means that the fourth grade had a suspension rate of 64 percent when suspensions are divided by the number of students in the grade.
Adriaan said the state flags schools that have suspension rates of more than 3 percent in any grade. “We were flagged across the board,” he said.
First-, third- and fifth-grades each saw students miss 13 days of school due to suspensions. Kindergartners missed 16 days due to suspension, second graders missed 23 days and sixth graders missed 21 days.
“The past years, the state has asked, ‘Why are you suspending so many kindergartners?’” Adriaan said.
He called the fourth grade numbers “alarming” and said that out of school suspension is not an effective way to address children’s behavioral issues. “You play video games for three days,” he said.
Gangopadhyay said he is making a priority of finding ways to reduce the number of student suspensions, including instructing teachers on better classroom management and bringing in more mental health specialists and social workers.
“We haven’t had a lot of funding behind it; we’ve had two disciplinarians putting out fires,” Gangopadhyay said. “We need to have dollars across the board. We need more mental health services, and we need to put more money into it. There are students who are getting intervention services, some have had a history of violence at other schools that we’ve taken on.”
Board members requested to get more specifics on student suspensions, including the number of repeats, reasons for suspensions and a comparison to other charter schools in the city.
In budget news, Financial Director Dan O’Connell said he’s scrambling to adjust next year’s budget in light of news from the Orleans Parish School Board that there will be less local revenue funding per pupil than predicted.
“This change was sudden and we didn’t know anything until a couple months ago. Everyone in the city is trying to figure out what to do,” O’Connell said. “To budget correctly, we’re going with a lower number (of projected revenue) in terms of what the actual money was this year, and, as we get more information, we’ll make adjustments.”
Success Prep has received a $50,000 grant from the Leader In Me organization for strategies and practices that teach students how to become leaders and made good choices. Adriaan said it is the first school in New Orleans to be awarded the money. Board member Ryan Bates said the school is finalizing a grant for the Irvin Mayfield Foundation.
The next meeting will be held on June 18 at 6:30 p.m.