Behavioral issues accompany new 7th graders

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Success Preparatory Academy is dealing with the growing pains of adding its first middle-school class this year.
School Director Niloy Gangopadhyay said he’s surprised at the amount of behavioral issues with the new seventh-grade students, and he told The Success Preparatory Academy Board members at their Oct. 4 meeting about measures to help curb behavioral issues.
“Seventh grade students require a lot more (work); a big difference is it takes a lot more to motivate (them),” Gangopadhyay said. “We’re still trying to find the right groove.”
Gangopadhyay  said issues stem from the school adding 15 brand new students to the grade. He said the school has worked to implement rewards programs for good behavior like “school bucks,” that can be used to buy snacks and/or attend school dances.
Students are also given the opportunity to attend a yoga class.
“We (have to) work on our ‘carrots,'” Gangopadhyay said. “If someone said, ‘what would you have done differently three months ago?’ My answer would be to spend a lot more time (preparing).
“The problems we’re dealing with are like high school, I would imagine,” he said.
Gangopadhyay said the school is looking to physically move its seventh grade class away from other classes in order to increase student concentration.
Success Prep has a different configuration than other schools. Walls don’t separate classrooms – partitions do.
On the academic front, board members and Gangopadhyay acknowledged the more rigorous Common Core standards imposed by the state this year.
“What our students have to learn, and teachers have to teach, is really hard,” he said. “Rigor is going to increase, and scores are going to decrease, but some schools will buck the trend. Why not (have) us be the school that doesn’t drop (scores) that far?”
Board Member Jack Carey added, “If you bring in and compare an assessment of the old and new, the rigor will shock your system.”
Gangopadhyay said many of the school’s new students are not as well prepared for the new standards.
“Those students were behind with the old Louisiana standards,” Gangopadhyay said. Now, with the more rigorous Common Core standards, Gangopadhyay said it’s putting them even further behind.
“It’s like going from (sports at) Nicholls State to the SEC,” Gangopadhyay said. “If they were on the bench at Nichols State, they’re going to get stomped at LSU.”
“We have a lot of talented people and a lot of brand new teachers and students; it’s a lot (to do). Every week it gets better, but it’s not where we want to be,” he added.
Gangopadhyay said teachers spent the recent fall break working on ways to support the upper grades and address Common Core issues, including having additional homework help before and after school.
“It’s a work in progress,” he said.
In other business, board members heard a presentation from Whole Foods representative Lindsay Morton, who announced that the store would like to work with the nearby school when it opens its doors Dec. 16.
“It could change the neighborhood,” Morton said. She said the store has a lot of creativity in how it works with the school and other groups, and suggested Whole Foods provide snacks and possible fundraising from store sales.
Morton said she left a stack of applications for anyone wanting a job at the store at Success Prep’s front office for parents.
In other business, board members were given a comprehensive report on student data, including where students live in order to get a geographic snapshot of the student body and possibly bring in businesses as partners. Board member Blake Pool said he was surprised to see many students in the 70126 zip code, which is eastern New Orleans and also students coming from the West Bank. The school is located at 2011 Bienville St. in New Orleans.
A follow-up will seek to identify businesses in these areas for partnerships, Pool said.
“Top companies in those zip codes are potential partners,” he said.
The school’s board members also discussed whether they should discuss publicly the number of student suspensions at the school.
At the end of last year, the high number of students who were suspended made news and dominated board conversation.
Gangopadhyay posed whether or not the board should continue to bring up that data at meetings.
“It’s something that everyone is dealing with but we’re the only one reporting it,” said Anderson Baker, board chairman.
Board members were divided on whether or not the issue should be discussed publicly and took no action.
In financial business, Board Member Ryan Bates said the school had a $6,000 increase in funding due to an increased special education student count. There are now 75 special-education students, five more than the what was reported at the September meeting. Gangopadhyay reported there is a total of 447 students enrolled at Success Prep.
The next board meeting is set for Nov.  7 at 6:30 p.m. at the school.
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