John McDonogh High School officials will begin a “door-to-door” freshman class recruitment process for the 2014-15 school year starting in January, said Steve Barr, the CEO of the national organization Future Is Now Schools.

During a Tuesday morning meeting of the school’s board of directors, Future Is Now: New Orleans, Barr said school officials would be showing up at the houses of eighth grade families to push the new ninth grade program, which was developed this year by ninth-grade principal Angela Kinlaw.

The program focuses on bringing ninth grade students who are behind up to grade level by using intensive academic intervention processes, he added.

“What you’re selling them is: most eighth graders are dramatically behind. We’re going to make an assessment, and they’re going to get a tutor,” Barr said. “Whatever it takes to pull that kid up. If we show up on their doorstep — that’s how we compete. We’ve got to sell that thing door to door.”

The school is hoping to increase enrollment for next year, after facing budget problems due to low enrollment this year. In October, Barr had said that John McDonogh likely would have to let go of one of its two principals and cut salaries this year due to enrollment-related budget woes.

The school had seen a 70-student drop from projected enrollment by October, with the numbers tallying to about 300 students versus the anticipated 370. At that point, the school was looking at $2.9 million in non-fundraising revenue this year, versus the nearly $3.6 million that John McDonogh leaders anticipated.

By Tuesday’s meeting, Principal Marvin Thompson said that the enrollment had reached about 310.

After the meeting, the national organization’s chief financial officer, Bill Kiolbasa, clarified that the school had not needed to let go of one of the principals after all, due mostly to last-minute fundraising efforts that better balanced the budget.

No budget materials were made available, however, during Tuesday’s meeting. Kiolbasa said the school’s audit would be reviewed at the next board meeting, which is in March, and that a financial committee meeting would take place prior to that March gathering.

In an academic report, Kinlaw said the school had been focusing on three goals: attendance, discipline and academic achievement, adding that intervention was implemented for any student who reached below 80 percent achievement.

To help students achieve, Kinlaw said that teachers and administrators were testing students three times a year — in October, January and April — to get varying data points, so that the school could start to monitor student progress ahead of state testing time.

“We want to intervene with our scholars as we go,” Kinlaw explained.

This year, the school set up 70 minutes of intervention time every day to give students one-on-one help and to better inform teachers about how to prepare future lessons.

A copy of each student’s diagnostic reports would be made available in a data binder that students would have access to, Kinlaw said.

“One thing we’re excited to see is scholars become empowered over their own journeys,” Kinlaw told board members.

It’s also important for administrators to continue to monitor teachers, Kinlaw added. She said that school officials were doing walkthroughs — five-minute observations — and full-class observations of all classrooms get data for professional development.

Some of the things the school would be looking for are collaborative environments, students asking questions, teachers providing feedback and more.

“We don’t think its fair for teachers to have one or two observations a year and expect them to grow,” Kinlaw said, adding that teacher development was paramount for student academic achievement.

Barr added that academic achievement directly correlated to attendance and behavioral issues, explaining that dropout rates are high amongst academically stunted students who enter freshman year in high schools that don’t have intervention programs set up for them.

“You humiliate a 15-year-old every day until they leave and that’s why they drop out,” Barr said. “If you’re humiliated then you act out, and you leave. And now you’re on the streets.”

“That’s why last year was so tough when we lost our ninth grade focus,” Barr added. “And this year we’re addressing that and we’re having focus. And next year we’ll go out and sell it.”

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...