Board notes from April and May 2012

Good morning,

Thank you to the parents and staff who attended our May (Dodson, Berman, Schuster, Craig-Meyer) and April (Campbell, Dodson) meetings.  We held a brief meet and greet for Dr. Lydia Chen, founding Head of School for The Chinese School in April as well and thank founding TCS families for coming out to meet her on that occasion.  Our next meeting of the Board of Directors is Wednesday, June 27th at 6pm.

Meeting Summaries

In April we had one of the shortest Board meetings in our young history!  We had one public comment from Tracey Campbell requesting licensed nursing care for our schools.  I presented our 2012-13 enrollment numbers to date and how our enrollment in April 2012 was similarly aligned with enrollment trends from previous years.  The only exception was enrollment for The Japanese School which had not increased at all since our March meeting.  Due to low enrollment, we decided to delay the opening of The Japanese School and implement a stronger outreach program for that language.  Parents and staff who had been fully committed to TJS opening in 2012 were rightfully disappointed, accepted their second choice school for the fall of 2012 and many have already volunteered to help build awareness and recruitment for Japanese for 2013.  In a follow-up to my March comments about the SAC meetings, particularly the behavior meeting in TSS, I presented the follow-up about the class-specific behavior meetings that Arlene and her SAC conducted.  The meetings elicited participation from many parents across all grade levels and Arlene was encouraged by the open conversation, concerns voiced and next steps that each class voiced.  The facilities committee reported on start dates for the new buildings construction and the upcoming TFS Open House to visit the space.

In May we had one public comment from Lisa Berman explaining why she has chosen to disenroll her daughter for next school year and what she hopes will change in our school implementation of the charter in time for her son to join us the following year for kindergarten.  We welcomed new Board member Austin Tao to his first meeting.

SLLIS Mobility and Attrition

I presented our enrollment trends to date and we had more conversation about mobility, attrition and tracking reasons that families leave SLLIS.  Our charter sets two separate goals for our student retention: 10% mobility and 10% attrition.  We set these goals based on prevalent data from other language immersion public schools in the US and have built our financial models assuming that we reach those numbers.  I explained the difference between mobility and attrition: mobility is the composite number of students who enrolled “mid-year” (at SLLIS we count any student who enrolls after September 1st as new) AND the number of students who disenroll before the year ends.  We have seen significant decline in our student mobility data since we opened.  In our first year our mobility was 33%, in our second year it was 18%, at this point in the school year TSS mobility is 11% and TFS mobility is 9%.  Attrition refers to students who complete the school year but do not return in the fall.  Based on our re-enrollment data for the fall we currently have 3.7% of families not returning to SLLIS. We present the final numbers in the fall board meeting, because each summer we have about 1% of families who send in records request after school closes.  Most families in the mobility and attrition categories who leave SLLIS leave because their family is relocating, changing custody agreements or other personal matters beyond our influence.

The most consistent reason that families have left SLLIS over the past three years that is under our influence is discipline.  This data has great impact on our professional development priorities and team problem-solving.  Our teacher teams in both schools have spent all year working (including today, their day off) on their teacher buy-in and implementation for more consistent, effective behavior management for all students in all settings.  Every adult in our building has been a part of designing these new norms and will begin teaching the norms to all SLLIS staff, then students and parents in the fall.  I also clarified a common misunderstanding about discipline incident data (as referenced in our charter and at DESE for all schools in Missouri).  Our charter sets a goal of no more than 2 discipline incidents per 100 students based on comparable numbers from Académie Lafayette in Kansas City (and quite lower than numbers reported by our local district and, at the time, all of the other charters in St. Louis).  The discipline incident data is not every single behavior referral or suspension that occurs on our campus.  It is reserved for incidents resulting in a suspension of greater than 10 days or resulting in an expulsion.  We have met or performed better than this goal every year.  Every citizen can view every school and/or district’s discipline incidents on DESE’s website: http://mcds.dese.mo.gov/guidedinquiry/District%20and%20Building%20Student%20Indicators/Building%20Discipline%20Incidents.aspx

Development Updates

With respect to development we were still very hopeful about the Deaconess Impact Partnership (we have not advanced to the next phase but didn’t know that at the May meeting) and clear that the work required for our growth will need to occur whether we are selected for this particular cohort or not.  We have recently received two recurring gifts from local partners.  The Saigh Foundation has again granted SLLIS $10,000 for our social equity campaign.  This provides 200 uniform subsidies for our families.  Monsanto Foundation has again granted SLLIS $25,000 for our outdoor science classroom.  This will allow for improvements at Papin and installation of an outdoor science classroom at Olive.  Rachel will make a final development report in June, but I presented the highlights for the new campaigns that she has initiated and the increased support that we have received because we are being more mindful about building strong relationships with all members of our donor community and encouraging parents and families to be a part of our annual campaign.  Typical giving patterns reveal that the majority of donations come from individuals, but at SLLIS our most significant contributions are from foundations and corporations.  As we grow our community, we look forward to engaging more members in giving.  Our Night of Celebration is Saturday, June 9th and we are looking forward to having an amazing night with our greater SLLIS community.  If you have not already purchased your tickets, you may do so on our website at: http://sllis.org/nightofcelebration/

Governance training

I also reported on a recent governance training that a few board members and I attended.  This training is geared to help charter school boards make more consistent self-evaluations both of the individual member’s engagement and of the board’s function.  The trainer presented very helpful tools to start our board reflection and the board is excited about taking the next steps to assess how well they are shepherding our mission and vision.

Facilities Updates

The facilities committee reported that our construction for Olive is underway and scheduled for completion mid-July, that we are finalizing the sound attenuation work for Papin this summer and that the committee continues to work on a long-term permanent master campus plan.  The space that we have at Olive will allow us to grow for a couple of years, but given construction and financing timelines, the board will still need to make a master campus decision by the end of this calendar year to assure a timely building opening for the fall of 2014.

I don’t think I shared this in the meeting, but in anticipation of parent questions, let me describe the sound attenuation work for Papin.  One of the most frustrating experiences that we all have on the first floor is that the sound precedes you.  When you hear activity/voices/bustle, you expect to walk into the classroom and observe total chaos.  On the contrary you might walk from class to class and observe that all of the groups are engaged in their work and speaking at regular levels, but the sound travel contributes to overall agitation.  I’m holding my breath just typing about it!  During this summer’s construction phase we will be working on the biggest sound impact for the first floor only.  Targeted suites of classrooms (based on worst sound travel to least sound travel) will have an interior classroom completely enclosed– full walls and a door– as a way to keep sound from traveling across all of the walls and lessening the overall din of each suite. Madame Katie and Profesora Anna’s classrooms are scheduled for full enclosure.  Profesor Joey y Profesora Sara’s classrooms are scheduled for wall extensions as are Madame Sally et Madame’s Sabrina’s shared wall.  Profesora Issy’s room has some special considerations as well given their proximity to the recess door.  Summer construction will never have sounded so sweet! Each summer we will continue to make improvements to the space at Papin and Olive to better support our learning environment and we will always prioritize most critical/urgent need in those improvements.

Conclusion

Thank you for reading two months worth of notes and for offering your support and new ideas.  Each day we have the awesome responsibility to wake up and serve your children, our children with our best resources, energy, ideas and caring.  We have eleven more days before the end of school and look forward to each one with the same attention and enthusiasm as we did in August.

I look forward to seeing everyone at our End of Year Picnic this Sunday from 12pm -3pm in Tegeler Field at SLU.  Free parking is available at the SLU garage on Olive and Compton.  Remember that this is a potluck celebration: kindergarten families bring desserts, 1st grades bring entrees (I’m making my stuffed chicken), 2nd grades bring sides and 3rd grades bring appetizers.  We will have lemonade and water available.

Best,
Rhonda

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