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Gathering the Pieces in New Orleans, There Is Work to Be Done

The air was so thick, you could have cut it with a knife. My heart beat rapidly within my chest. My anticipation grew and my expectations were high as I waited to hear just the right set of words.

Earlier this month, the United Negro College Fund held a candidate forum for the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education district elections. Election day is on October 24. The first panel consisted of candidates vying for the Orleans Parish School Board District 1 seat. This group was especially of note due to the previous incumbent’s indictment and subsequent conviction of bribery. The panel consisted of three longtime educators, Keith Barney, Shawon Bernard and John Brown. Brown currently holds the seat on an interim basis. They answered several questions regarding special needs, the recruitment of qualified and certified teachers and the need for a strong early child-care program. They all appear to be dedicated and committed to improving education in this city. Whether they follow through on their agendas and considering the last individual who held this seat is in jail, I will be on watch.

The contenders for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education have been thrusted into the spotlight like never before. Lee Barrios and Jim Garvey are running for the District 1 seat. Kara Washington and Kira Orange Jones are in contention for the District 2 seat.

Several answers displayed a little more pop. On a question about teacher recidivism and recruitment, Washington spoke of how school systems should work hand and hand with colleges and universities on supplying a steady crop of certified teachers. Barrios added her sentiments of having a quality teaching-mentor system. Garvey hinted at accountability, school choice and moving to a letter grading system. Jones spoke of coming from a single parent home, going from remedial classes to graduating with her master’s degree.

But the real question is, who are the real winners and losers here? I think there are gains on both sides. Children in New Orleans and surrounding areas have access to education funding, planning, programs and resources like never before. Are we as adults going to make sure they take advantage of them? The growing trend around our nation in education dialogue is parent engagement and community involvement. But we should turn this trend into action. We parents must do the work ourselves.

So many different kinds of people have moved into New Orleans after Katrina, both transplants from all over the country and immigrants. We could come together and celebrate, learn and embrace one another’s culture and heritage as this beautiful melting pot unfolds. Our awareness is growing that we must be educated, proactive and observant as we view what our elected officials are doing as they sit in office working for the people.

We are on the cusp of greatness in my city as far as education is concerned. It is going to take collective energy by key players to see this vision through. I am prepared to work with any elected officials, appointed individuals and all educators as long as they are dedicated to children. We only need a few tweaks here, a slight bend there, a knock with a hammer, a buff and a polish. Then we are as good as new.

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