As John McDonogh Senior High School cut nearly $327,500 from this year’s budget in teacher salaries, board members expressed concern Tuesday over “flat line” scores in summer school.

The pass rate was only 11 percent in U.S. History and 29 percent in English II. In fact, the highest pass percentage rate was 57 percent, in English III. None of the students were proficient in Algebra I, either.

The majority of the 117 participants were from John McDonogh.

“What good does this do these children?” asked board member Vaughn Fauria. “When I look at this, this is unacceptable.”

No student got a score of “excellent” in any academic categories.

“Teachers need to be better trained on how to teach and communicate the material to students in ways they can understand and learn it,” said Elizabeth Jeffers, a former English teacher at John McDonogh who attended the board meeting. “The deficiency is not just in the students.”

John McDonogh Principal Marvin Thompson said that low pass rates were a “pattern” that the school was trying to fix.

“High school is a culmination of eight years in previous education,” Thompson said. “Most people who are coming to our school are missing some skill sets.”

John McDonogh officials are hoping to turn the school around in the coming years with more advanced academic classes.  The school is preparing to add honors, Advanced Placement classes and dual enrollment courses next year, Thompson announced Tuesday.

To accommodate these courses, Future Is Now: New Orleans has adjusted the budget to ask for contributions and donations of $550,000. A preliminary budget released a month ago only accounted for $484,000 in donations.

“The difference came down to class offering we settled on,” said Bill Kiolbasa, the chief financial officer of the national organization, Future Is Now Schools.

“We feel very confident we’re offering our students a lot of variety on both the college and on the career tracks.”

The dual enrollment courses will be offered at Delgado Community College for juniors and seniors, Thompson said, and will include business, hospitality and graphic design.

The school also will add AP English classes and honors ninth grade to the curriculum.

“Being a college preparatory school we need to make sure that our curriculum is reflective of that, not just in concept but in actual courses,” Thompson said.

But board member John Hope expressed concern about how these classes would be funded with the budget cuts made to adjust to an enrollment of about 370 students.

“There seems to be some danger in that,” Hope said about relying on contributions to fund these classes.

Last year, the school had an operating budget of $4.7 million and an estimated student count of 480. At Tuesday’s meeting, the board approved an operating budget of about $4.1 million.

“That’s a reflection of a smaller staff that we have,” Thompson said.

The school didn’t add any teachers for the new courses – they just reassigned them.

“Most of the teachers here, because of a small staff, teach at least two different courses each semester,” Thompson said.

To save money, the school also is using an online system to teach advanced-placement  classes. Sending teachers to training was just too expensive unless the school went through the state, Thompson said.

As John McDonogh cut teachers salaries, the school added a $115,000 principal position to oversee incoming ninth graders.

Hope said the budget showed a “top heavy” salary structure.

“What you’re trying to do, I think is put a structure in place that will support a larger organization,” Hope said. “But it is an environment of scarce funds.”

Future Is Now Schools Chief Executive Officer Steve Barr said students show up in ninth grade “dramatically unprepared,” and so need the most attention.

“For us to accomplish the mission here, we have to change that ninth grade,” Barr said. “We have to do an intervention on each kid. That is our secret sauce.”

In addition to Barr, Fauria, Hope, Thompson and Kiolbasa, board members Clarence Robinson and Charles Fenet also were in attendance. Several John McDonogh staff members attended, as well as about 10 members of the press and public.

The next board meeting is scheduled for Aug. 20.

Della Hasselle

Della Hasselle, a freelance journalist and producer, reports environmental and criminal justice stories for The Lens. A graduate of Benjamin Franklin High School and the New Orleans Center for Creative...