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July 2020: Board Meeting Minutes

Le Monde Immersion Board Meeting Minutes Atlas Immersion Academy Parking Lot, Portland OR
(outdoor due to pandemic) Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Called to order 5:46pm

In attendance
Board: Shouka Rezvani (non-voting), Ben Melix-Stanciu, Ali Garfinkle, Michal McCamman, Dory Hobbs, Jarod Hobbs, and Mark Williams. Parents in attendance

  1. The board approved Q3 financials, February board minutes, PPP loan, revised budget, to expand number of permitted board members, and to appoint Mark Williams to the Board of Directors.
  2. School Report
    The board extended congratulations to the staff for the quick pivot to distance learning in this unusual year. To learn at spring break that distance learning would start, we formally acknowledge the work and stress that went into the quick planning and engagement. Everyone really stepped up and the board expresses deep gratitude. The Department of Education put strict and prescribed allotments of how much time (video or online time) teachers could spend independently engaging with the kids. The Board acknowledges the staff did a great job creating ways for students to engage. We recognize that there were plenty of challenges, but acknowledge the positives.
    Challenges included (but were nowhere near limited to) the amount of time we could spend with students, the technology learning curve (from being an intentionally low tech school), and identifying obtaining, and setting up the new online learning management system. Learned things we can do with individual engagement and best practices that we hope to include moving forward. If restrictions are lifted the staff feels confident we can create a good online learning environment. There were many successes, for example the relationship with school in Haiti was culturally enriching, students felt engaged writing letters and donating clothes and masks. The head of the Durissy School is very grateful.
    Another huge accomplishment is graduating the school’s first class of 8th graders! The moment was very bittersweet for everyone involved. A very restricted, very lovely, and very moving Graduation ceremony included only the graduating students’ immediate family and staff who had worked with those students. Parents expressed a lot of gratitude. All of the original 8th grade class received 1st year algebra credits. All took STAMP test remotely via Zoom and all students received high school French credits. Some graded as high as 3rd year college French. Very proud of these 8th graders and excited to hold graduation even in this environment!
    Thinking ahead to next year, there are 3 models we can consider based on Oregon Department of Education (ODE) requirements, which are shiftly constantly:
    a. Comprehensive distance learning requirements with different ODE requirements
    b. Hybrid model – some in person instruction and some distance learning.
    c. On site every day. This model is not possible because we don’t have 35 square feet per person with teacher. So at most half our student body at a time could do hybrid under current standards (which may still change). Plus we must include 6ft distancing, so the current space is not big enough. In order to try and make room (“strive to approach 6 ft distance” according to the guidance) staff arranged placement with half the furniture in storage.
    Shouka surveyed the school parent population to take the pulse. With a large returned sample size, survey result data did not reveal any surprises. Everyone wants to be at school. 10-15% of respondents indicated that they wanted to be distance but vast majority prefer to be in school; same for staff as well. Of the proposed models, the teachers are not interested in half days as they feel there is a lot of lost instruction. The teachers express they strongly prefer the 2 day per week model in the hybrid model is chosen. As we prepped for what it really looked like with this model, some staff perspectives changed because school looks so drastically different (mapping out circles, removing furniture, putting in plexiglass dividers, wearing or not wearing masks). Socialization is difficult to accomplish. Even with small classes of kids being kept apart it doesn’t seem like it would be positive for anyone.
    Shouka is proceeding with trying to prepare the building for the updates required to maximize Covid safety, including installing air purification, plumbing upgrades, no-touch dispensers, etc. A lot of expenditures and planning is going towards these precautionary measures instead of toward planning for instruction. While she 100% agrees that social and mental health is important, Shouka feels like with an anticipated reduced budget and increased expenses, splitting focus between distance and hybrid is not maximizing our planning for instruction. She understands the challenges of distance learning: people disengage with distance learning AND people that are going to need childcare. Unfortunately, the hybrid two days per week model doesn’t meet those needs. We really have no answers, but the community should continue considering options and following the news.
    Shouka is inquiring about insurance coverage as liability related to Covid is not currently clear. Some states have indemnified public schools. It appears we cannot purchase insurance that will protect against liability risks related to Covid.
    The majority of survey responses (almost 70%) show an interest in a delayed opening of the school after other schools open by at least a month. We need to submit our operational blueprint for opening school to the state and it first must be reviewed by Multnomah County. A staggered opening will allow us to gradually bring in different grades to notice gaps before all 400 kids (half at any time) are in person. Staff is more inclined to have older kids first and then work way down to younger grades, though it is more likely they will allow younger students back first. The Board will need to continue monitoring case rates and what is allowed by applicable health metrics.
    Enrollment has been steady and a waiting list still exists for the school. The board discussed potential challenges presented to enrollment by the pandemic.
    Last spring the school lent chromebooks to families. Shouka purchased approximately 80+ more chromebooks for fall, but there are apparently delays as most of the world also is purchasing them.
    Some of the school’s traditional professional development was cancelled at the end of the year due to the pandemic, but the staff was able to do racial literacy work as well as some distance learning professional development. Many staff members are taking additional summer professional development to help with distance learning approaches.
  3. Intern Program Update
    Ali officially thanks the interns and the host families for their work and dedication at the end of the very strange year. These families and interns dealt with unique and scary circumstances – a number of the interns stayed to help the teachers and we appreciate their dedication. There are many unknowns for next year. There are many questions around J visas and what governments will allow and what travel will be permitted.
  4. Financial and Fundraising Update
    It appears that there will be at least a 7% budget reduction in terms of state funding next year, although specifics are not yet clear and at some points we were told to expect as much as a 20% state school fund reduction.
    We will definitely see budget variances related to COVID. Certain funding is still uncertain: the school may receive 60% of SIA funds (which will help with staffing). We don’t know when we will have more info and when we will get money. ESSER funds may be available to help pay for COVID related expenses, but we don’t know if our school will receive it and how much funding this would represent. This funding would definitely help the necessary upgrades but it is not 100%. The school spent the PPP loan funds in the required timeframe, so we will not start the loan forgiveness process.
    Comparing our budget to actuals to date the school is operating pretty close to budget. This time of year we have a decent cushion on our bottom line, we expect this to be used up when we pay the July salaries under this year’s contracts. Shouka anticipates that this year will close out pretty close to budget. Fundraising was right on target, which great and much-needed family support for the virtual La Fete. Thank you, Le Monde community!
    Board hope is that the PPP loan will become a grant next fiscal year. Activity and supply donations are also accrued into next year to pay for expenses and curriculum purchases. Given unknowns, the financial picture is fair. Shouka met with landlord and asked for a one month abatement of rent, but she is not sure the landlord will grant it.
    Shouka is working with the staff and the auditors to conduct a remote audit.
  5. Le Monde Programs LLC Discussion
    Discussion about AFCA and what might be possible with a cohort hybrid model of school. While we understand there is a need, the Board doesn’t see a way for this to proceed safely or ethically (mixing cohorts, risk with staffing, time to clean classrooms, etc). The Board is an agreement to hold off planning AFCA at this time, while monitoring and making changes if allowed.
    Still trying to collect AFCA fees from the spring from those families who haven’t paid. The board recognizes that some are experiencing financial distress, but also appears some families are simply delinquent. Overall, though, LMP is doing OK.
  6. Le Monde Parents Community (LMPC) News
    Jen Stack reports that most events were cancelled in the spring. Parents were very generous for Teacher Appreciation. Science Fair projects turned in. The LMPC biggest questions is around summer possible activities – can new K families get together? Typically the group holds a park play date. The school needs to say no meetings, field trips, etc for next year, at least right now. The school can provide the link to the parents community group on its website.
  7. Public Comment/DEI Group Discussion
    People who joined the Equity and Inclusivity in Education Committee this year attended the board meeting to discuss a new structure for their committee, with a proposed new name “Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity” (DEI). New leadership took over the committee this year, and the original kick off was well attended. The committee created a new proposed mission document to articulate a changed mission, vision, and structure for a sustainable committee.
    The structure of the committee was discussed, and the Board reminded the members that the previous committee was established as part of the founding vision of the school, and thus had to be apolitical (as required of all Section 501(c)(3) organizations). A lot of activities were staff driven, and board members or staff could attend as individuals. The board discussed ways that the committee might be structured, and suggested that going forward, the committee might be better identified as a parent group with a different charge. With the previous model, a school-sanctioned committee must remain neutral in its political messaging, though can clearly take an anti-racist stance, as the school and its leadership clearly does. With parent groups the school does not control the messaging, instead allows community members to opt in and participate as they choose.
    Discussion moved to accountability and reporting done by the school, and Shouka reminded those present that there are many statistics published by the state in the state’s annual report card. The board discussed possible steps that the school could take to more clearly communicate steps it takes related to increasing diversity, equity and inclusivity.
    Gratitude and appreciation were expressed for Shouka and the staff, as well as to the committee members who have given valuable time and feedback. The committee members will discuss how they might like to reconfigure the group moving forward and will advise the board.
  8. Executive Session
    Meeting Adjourned 8:51pm