New Orleans College Prep plans 228-seat preschool for ages 0-4 at Hoffman site

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Eboni Walker (right) shows off a brightly painted classroom at Hoffman to New Orleans College Prep board members during a campus tour in October 2015. (Robert Morris,

Eboni Walker (right) shows off a brightly painted classroom at the Hoffman site to New Orleans College Prep board members during a campus tour in October 2015. (Robert Morris,

Building on an experiment in mixed-income preschool classes launched this year, the New Orleans College Prep charter-school network plans to expand its Hoffman campus to serve 228 students from ages 0 to 4 starting next year, officials said Monday.

New Orleans College Prep operates three charter schools — Sylvanie Williams and Crocker elementary schools, and Walter L. Cohen high school — and opened a HeadStart program in fall of 2015 in modular buildings at the site of the former Hoffman school site on South Prieur Street. This fall, the charter network added tuition-based preschool sites at Sylvanie Williams and Crocker alongside the free seats the state already sponsors for low-income students.

Next year, College Prep will add enough modular buildings to expand Hoffman from its present 60 students to 228, founder Ben Kleban told the network’s governing board on Monday evening. Half of the seats will be tuition-based, priced on a sliding scale based on the family’s income, and the other half will be free through HeadStart.

“The concept is that this is a preschool that anybody come to, whether you’re low income or middle income,” Kleban said.

The Hoffman site will serve children from birth to age 4, so Kleban said he expects most of the growth in student population to come from those youngest classes of infants and toddlers. The school particularly hopes to recruit children of local school teachers, and will offer preferred admission to those families, he said.

Like the Sylvanie Williams and Crocker programs, the Hoffman center aims to fill a gap in the city’s education landscape between the schools that are inaccessible to the poor and those that concentrate poverty.

“Most childcare centers are either entirely tuition-based, limiting access for our city’s lowest-income families, or entirely publicly funded (ie, Head Start or LA4), with enrollment 100 percent concentrated with families living poverty,” according to a report College Prep prepared for board members. “Very few childcare centers in our city offer ‘diverse delivery’ enrollment, blending together publicly-funded early learning seats with tuition-based seats.”

The charter network had difficulty filling the tuition-based seats at Sylvanie Williams and Crocker this fall, but school leaders said that was a problem in schools across Orleans Parish. The learning experience of launching that program, they said, will inform the more ambitious expansion at Hoffman.

“There’s a lot to learn from what necessarily hasn’t gone well with our tuition-based experience at Crocker and Sylvanie, but this is also very different,” said Vanessa Douyon, College Prep’s director of development.

Financial projections show that the Hoffman expansion’s $2.7 million budget could be balanced after five years, but the funding shortfall during that time would amount to $1 million. They’ve secured $100,000 from the Rosenthal Family Foundation and $125,000 from Booth Bricker toward the project, but that leaves a gap of $775,000 — though Kleban noted that College Prep is already heavily subsidizing Hoffman, and this project would end that.

Other schools, like the KIPP network, have tried small-scale childcare centers, but the cost per child is too high to be sustainable at a small center, Kleban said. Ultimately, Kleban said, the Hoffman project may become a model the city can replicate to try to get more children into school settings at a younger age — which “decades of research” have shown triples achievement levels by age 14 and the likelihood of attending college.

“This could potentially be a model for early learning centers that we could replicate elsewhere in the city,” Kleban said.

The New Orleans College Prep board also approved the charter network’s budget and discussed the challenges of raising test scores at Sylvanie Williams on Monday. To read our live coverage of the meeting, see below.

Live Blog New Orleans College Prep board meeting – Sept. 12, 2016

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