After a rigorous seven-month application process and hope for a small miracle, The NET Charter High School, located in Central City, became only the second alternative school in the nation to receive a $250,000 grant from The Walton Foundation.
The grant is given to assist with the opening of a new school, or within the first year of operation, and is paid out over three years.
While the foundation has heavily invested in the New Orleans education system, NET leaders knew the grant was a long shot for them. They were told the foundation does not support alternative schools. Alternative schools cater to students who often have special needs or circumstances that prevent them from attending conventional schools.
Serving around 150 students, two-thirds of whom are below a high-school learning level, the school’s stats on attendance, test scores and graduation are by nature not able to hold up within the current letter grade assessment system used by the Recovery School District.
School leadership called the good news, “validation within the community.”
At Tuesday’s board of director’s meeting, Principal Elizabeth Ostberg laid out an initial plan for the grant’s use, with the largest amount proposed for hiring an academic support coordinator.
“Nearly every kid could use one-on-one support,” Ostberg said. “This additional hire would do tutoring, work with small groups and work one-on-one. There will be a very direct impact on their abilities.”
Extending the role of the school’s post-graduation coordinator, purchasing a van to increase the number of home visits and excursions, and enhancing the science lab and classroom technology are additional proposed plans for the funds.
Ostberg also plans to hire a data developer to create a system for the school to track the kind of data that is typically a given in non-alternative environments, like credit attainment and progress towards graduation.
While jail time and pregnancies are the most common reason for NET students’ long-term absences, spotty attendance is being fought with various methods old and new.
The school has begun a new system that explicitly breaks down and shows students how their attendance affects their grades.
Leadership has also started a texting alert system reminding students to get to school as well as mailing out postcards when a student has been missing class.
The frequency in which student’s cell phone numbers change is a problem Ostberg noted with the texting program, however she sees the postcard as a possible way to better get a family’s attention, as a letter sent from the school often will remain unopened.
Home visits from the school’s social worker and assistant dean also continue to be used to touch base with families.
“They go out twice a week, and they really have a big effect,” Ostberg said. “The kids can see that we care.”
According to Ostberg, securing funding continues to be a struggle with no alternative grading system in place, but in the meantime The NET now has a little monetary breathing room.
The meeting ran from 6:07 p.m. to 7:22 p.m. with the following board members in attendance, Michelle Brown, Marshall Fitz, Kristina Kent, Anna Koehl and Will Kulick.