Opinion: Little Controversy as New Orleans Schools Return to Local Oversight
In October 2005, I found myself standing in the childhood home of a dear friend who had spent her early years in New Orleans. As I gazed around, the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina was still evident. Her father had already begun the arduous process of rebuilding their house after the storm had forced them to abandon it. This experience was common among the city’s residents, as they all sought to restore their homes and their lives.
Recently, Governor John Bel Edwards signed a legislation which marked another milestone in New Orleans’ path towards recovery. This legislation transferred all public schools back to the oversight of the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB).
During the years 2006 to 2012, my organization worked with the state to assess proposals for new charter schools in New Orleans. Every charter school that opened during that period underwent our evaluation process. Later on, we collaborated with the OPSB to establish systems for authorizing charter schools.
Due to my involvement with both the state and the school board, I have been frequently asked for my thoughts on the return of schools to OPSB. However, I believe that the opinions of those who work within the New Orleans schools on a daily basis hold far greater significance than mine.
Recently, I posed a question to several individuals working in or with New Orleans’ schools. I asked them to share, in 100 words or less, what actions the OPSB must take or avoid in order to continue the progress made over the past ten years. Here are their responses:
Patrick Dobard, superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery School District, emphasizes the need for the OPSB leadership to act as portfolio managers. He believes they should take a proactive approach to develop and manage a portfolio office that addresses various aspects, including new school recruitment, growth plans for successful operators, board quality, supporting struggling schools, and even making the difficult decision of not renewing a charter contract when necessary.
Stefan Lallinger, principal of Langston Hughes Academy Middle School, emphasizes the importance of democratic decision-making in relation to schools. He asserts that the citizens of New Orleans should have a say in their children’s education. However, he cautions that while the transfer of control continues, it is crucial to remember the lessons of the past decade. The OPSB must handle admissions, expulsions, facilities, funding distribution, and most importantly, school and charter management organizations’ (CMOs) accountability. Lallinger urges the board not to interfere with principals’ autonomy in hiring staff, managing budgets and schedules, and establishing the curriculum.
Ben Kleban, founder and president of New Orleans College Prep, sees the city as on the path to establishing an innovative and effective public school system. To achieve this vision, he believes the OPSB must maintain and strengthen the balance between autonomy and accountability that has contributed to the success of schools in the past decade. Additionally, Kleban emphasizes the importance of ensuring equitable access to quality education for all children, regardless of their background. Finally, he calls for the OPSB to represent and engage the entire community in the progress and vision of the local public schools.
Dr. Andre Perry, a columnist for the Hechinger Report, argues that the future goals of New Orleans should not be tied to the accomplishments of the last ten years. He believes that the city should strive for schools based on democratic principles that generate positive outcomes educationally, economically, and politically. Perry asserts the need for adequate and equitable funding for schools, safe environments for children, good working conditions for teachers, curricula that set students up for success, and easily accessible schools.
Erika McConduit-Diggs, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, views the unification of public schools as a critical moment in the city’s history. This moment will ultimately shape the future success and sustainability of the education system. McConduit-Diggs stresses the importance of the OPSB supporting all schools as they transition back into the district. This includes ensuring that schools meet the needs of vulnerable children, providing fair access to programs, funding, and support, holding schools accountable for growth and outcomes, and prioritizing transparency in reporting successes, challenges, and corrective actions necessary for optimal results.
Caroline Roemer, the executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, emphasizes the importance of selecting a school board that fully understands its role in a portfolio district. In order to ensure continuous progress, the school board should prioritize three key areas:
1. Appointing a superintendent who will lead with a focus on achieving positive academic outcomes.
2. Establishing a charter school authorization arm that prioritizes the development of high-quality charter schools that cater to the diverse needs of all students.
3. Transforming the traditional central office into a portfolio district team that acts as a supportive partner, offering valuable thoughts and assistance to the schools under its jurisdiction.
However, the main challenge in implementing these initiatives lies in keeping politics out of decision-making processes.
What stands out about the responses provided by education advocates is their shared dedication to providing a quality education for all children, while aligning with the values and aspirations of the community. Key qualities such as equality, transparency, autonomy, and accountability are emphasized by all.
New Orleans serves as a powerful example for education advocates across the spectrum. Despite differing opinions, the city’s goals, aspirations, and the path forward for education seem to be in harmony and widely supported.
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