On a wet, cloudy Saturday morning on the second floor of Fair Grinds coffeehouse, Einstein Charter board members spent more than two hours in a retreat discussing plans to expand and fund their schools.
Shawn Toranto, principal/CEO of Einstein, kicked off the conversation by discussing possible plans for acquiring another Pre-K through 8th grade school in eastern New Orleans.
From there, Toranto said she wanted to “see about acquiring a high school… that can satisfy all the academic needs of our kids.”
Asked about her proposed timeline, Toranto responded, “We’re not doing anything until we’ve moved to our new building…. I’d rather have two schools that are excellent than be a professional at replicating.”
Einstein is contemplating a move to another facility that will be able to house 800 to 850 students.
Doug Guidry, CFO, wondered whether Einstein would be able to increase its size to require that large of a space.
“Einstein is a B school,” information technology specialist Phong Tran answered. “In the next couple of years, we’ll be an A school, so [students] are going to want to come. I don’t think filling the school will be an issue.”
The board’s other questions for Toranto centered on the feasibility and urgency of opening a high school. Einstein’s schools currently do not go past 8th grade.
“High school is a whole different beast,” Toranto said. “It would take at least a year to study high school design… The only benefit is, the majority of students would be our own.”
Locating good teachers would be critical to support these growth plans, Toranto said.
“We have a leadership pipeline but no pipeline for quality educators,” she said. “We can’t bank on TFA (Teach For America) every time we need a teacher… We want longevity with our staff.”
Daniel Davis, Einstein’s development director, broached the subject of establishing a separate board dedicated specifically to fundraising. A “Friends of Einstein” board, Davis said, could have “a separate pile of money and do separate things from the school.”
Also, Davis noted such boards would not be subject to legal restrictions such as public meetings laws or Louisiana residency requirements.
“This is about the long-term viability of the school,” Davis said. “While we’re replicating, we’re very ‘grant-fundable.’ Once you have an established charter network, unless you want to rewrite your curriculum every 5 years, your opportunity to do new and brilliant things lowers.”
Board members debated the suggestion, addressing the possible redundancy in creating another 501(c)3 organization apart from Einstein Charter Schools. Others, including board president Ryan Bennett, pointed out that since Einstein’s current board is still understaffed, recruiting a whole new board would be no small feat.
Davis countered that the hypothetical board could be staffed more easily since the requirements for membership would not require the same level of time commitment.
“It’d be way less demanding,” Davis said.
While not specifically endorsing the idea, Toranto emphatically expressed her support for finding alternate, non-public revenue streams to finance Einstein.
“Now is the time to move forward – not to say aggressive – but to really move forward in seeking funding,” she said.
“We’re an excellent school. We’re known in circles from California to New York. There are people that support us – that study what we do… Now is the time collectively to move so our programs can receive revenue other than depending on [public funding].”
The board’s other business at the retreat before adjourning at 11:57 a.m. involved discussion of parents’ qualms about Einstein’s possible participation in the OneApp system, and rescheduling committee meetings for the remainder of the school year. The new committee schedule will be made available on Einstein’s website.
Aside from Bennett, Vice President Laurin Jacobsen and board members Zachary Wool, Lauren Pigeon, and Emily Danielson were in attendance, as were staff members Toranto, Tran and Guidry.