My conversations on the phone and recent meet up with parents and supporters of children who attend New Orleans’ last remaining district schools run by the Orleans Parish School Board left me concerned. My worry centers around the actions of those who are handling the parent and community engagement aspects of the OPSB. At their recent meeting, parents say they were told how to ask or state their questions. Their questions were taken all at once at the beginning of the meeting and when the meeting was over, they were still left without a sense of understanding or inclusion within this process.
As parents rallied the troops and prepared to meet to discuss a plan of action, they were blindsided by a letter in their children’s backpacks from the OPSB that solicited support for an independent Charter Management Organization called the ExCEED Network of Schools.
This photo is an original letter that was leaked to a reporter and subsequently revised.
The problem with this action is that no one knows who the ExCEED Network Charter Management Organization is. No one knows who their leaders are and no one knows who is initiating the idea of this Charter Management Organization getting a charter (although many parents believe it is actually officials of the Orleans Public School Board). Needless to say there are far too many unknowns, too little transparency and lots of unanswered questions that have parents feeling left in the dark.
There is something wrong with asking a group of parents to support a charter management organization that has not been properly introduced to them and that seems to be coming out of nowhere. It feels coercive.
In response to the actions to the OPSB, a group of parents has formed who are against the chartering of the remaining schools. A group of parents who believe that public district schools should stay that way and that chartering is not a beneficial idea for them, their children or for the schools of New Orleans.
I personally don’t have a position on the chartering of these five remaining schools. But I do have a position on the communication that parents deserve. I fight for a true and clear parent voice that needs to be part of any decision involving their children; this, on the other hand, feels like a parent engagement campaign cloaked in secrecy.
Here’s what I think:
- I believe that the direction of these five schools should be reflective of what the majority of the parents and families collectively want.
- I believe that an intentional and deliberate seeking of an organic and authentic parent voice should be aggressively pursued in order to gain an unbiased collection of parents and families concerned
- I know factually that parents are very apprehensive because of the treatment that they have received from school officials and the lack of answers they have been afforded even when they ask high level officials at the OPSB. They feel snubbed.
- I intentionally question elected school board members that are very quiet about actions from the OPSB administration and from school officials. The fact that public servants serving the people had little to say about a blank letter of parent and teacher support when it should be evident to them that these parents and teachers don’t have a clue who is in charge of this organization trying to garner their support is puzzling, to say the least.
- Public officials who represent these parents -their constituents- must make an attempt to provide information and address their concerns.
The OPSB is confusing the community and these letters sent home in children’s backpacks caused even more unrest to parents who are already guarded about what is transpiring in education at the local and national level. The parents I have spoken to have also expressed that they wouldn’t mind potentially working with charters and supporting them but not until they feel confident about accountability and standards. But that will be much harder with the distrust and uncertainty created when education officials are not forthcoming with information.
I’m only raising my voice in the hope of sparking dialogue and deep conversations about common ground that will benefit our most precious resources, our children. We owe our kids that much.
By Shawnta Barnes and David McGuire
In their article, “Decades after civil rights gains, black teachers a rarity in public schools” USA Today noted, “Because most white communities in the 1950s and 1960s preferred white teachers over black ones, court-ordered desegregation often ended the teaching careers of black educators.” Although Brown v. Board of Education led to the initial decrease of black educators in the classroom, it is not the reason the number of black educators in the classroom is dismal today. Districts across the nation are struggling to fill teaching positions; they also are pressured to fill some of those positions with diverse candidates. But if a district does hire a talented educator from a diverse background, the school district and the educator’s colleagues may be the reason this same educator leaves. How many great educators walk away because issues are not addressed or simply ignored?
When I became a teacher, I wanted to be known as a Language Arts teacher and I wanted to be known for my ability to drive student achievement. I wanted to be the expert in the building on how to better help my students become better writers and find their joy for reading. I wanted to serve on the instructional committee. Those were my aspirations as a teacher.
What my school saw me as was a black man, the black man who was young enough to be considered “cool” by the students. I was the young black man in the building who could walk into the room and grab the attention of the students (90% of them were African American) and make them listen and comply. I was told by a staff member, “You shouldn’t have any problems in your class; the kids will like you.” My response to her was, “Why won’t I have any problems?” Her response back was simple, “You can relate to them.” Everyone knows what that means. They are black and you are black, so you must have a lot in common.
Many times as an educator of color you feel stymied. You feel it does not matter how good your data is or how much your students have learned; what is most important is your ability to manage difficult students, who are normally black and brown. Instead of addressing the uncomfortable truth that some educators are not the best fit at urban schools, or helping educators improve their practice to help them become more successful working with students who are different from them, schools go for the quick fix which, to them, means as a black educator you can expect to have difficult students in your class because you can handle them.
This has unintended consequences.
White colleagues have told me to my face, “You are an affirmative action hire” or “You were just hired because we didn’t have enough black people on staff.” It is difficult to maintain motivation to work in your school when you believe some of your colleagues only see you as a disciplinarian and refuse to see you as a skilled educator. When you are a talented educator of color, administration may choose not to support your professional goals or they might pass you over for opportunities you desire because the school doesn’t think they can afford to take you away from difficult students.
Not Because We Are Black
Most of us have heard this before
They say it as a matter of fact
This long held misguided belief
It’s easy for us because we are black.
Ascribe our success to chance
Ignore our degrees, awards, and plaques
Forget the midnight oil we also burn
Spew this statement as a matter of fact
Shut down strategies shared
so quick to clap back
“Oh, you can handle these kids
because you are black.”
To you, it may seem
like a harmless wisecrack
To us, your off-hand statement
feels like a slap
Your words aren’t really about us
It’s about the skills you lack
Your lessons don’t connect to ‘these kids’
These reasons seem to be the facts
Some who read this may feel attacked
Not sorry; not cutting you any slack
When too many kids who look like us
keep falling through the cracks
Because you won’t reflect,
take a moment, and step back
and acknowledge your inability to reach and teach them
has nothing do with the fact you aren’t black
We need people to understand that it is wrong to limit Black educators to being disciplinarians in schools. We can’t continue to be given the roughest group of students because you feel we are better equipped to handle them. We can’t stand by while you limit our growth as teachers and fail to see us as equals. We can’t be used to make up for colleagues’ shortcomings because we are black and they aren’t.
Too many black educators are falling through the cracks with their black students. If schools fail to address very real concerns of black educators, more black students will have the same limited experience as those minorities in the Barron School District in Wisconsin and will continue through their K-12 education only being taught by white educators.
Black History Month is a time to celebrate the many accomplishments and contributions of black people, including black educators. We all we need to work to ensure that black educators stay in the classroom to keep making history and to teach our future history makers.
You can read more of Shawanta Barnes and David McGuire blog’s here.
Laura Halleman of the Louisiana Record writes about how the Type 2 charter schools will not receive public funding due to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal ruling against them.
According to The Advocate, the court ruled in a 3-2 decision against the public funding for the Type 2 charter schools. These schools are not run by local school boards, but rather are overseen by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
#MyBlackHistory: My Parents Decided to Go Back to College 30 Years Later. Here’s How My Story Inspired Them.
Recently, the story of my parents, Renate and Charles Cole, went viral after I tweeted on social media: “My parents went back to college together and they graduated today. Together #salute.” After years of battling drug addiction, it wasn’t easy but from watching my own education journey they also knew it wasn’t impossible.
HERE’S HOW MY STORY INSPIRED THEM TO GO BACK TO COLLEGE
I attended more than 10 schools before the fifth grade and I had an attitude problem in each and every classroom.
I was born in Chicago to young, drug-addicted parents that had a penchant for moving and staying in and out of jail. I moved from Chicago to Paducah, Kentucky to stay with my grandmother and then back to Chicago and then back to Paducah, you get the point: I moved a lot. Which also meant I transferred schools a lot. I was always the new kid trying to catch up on coursework, make new friends, all the while knowing that I wouldn’t be at that school for long.
When my grandmother passed, my father rounded me and my siblings up, and we moved to Oakland, where my father’s sister lived. At the time, my mother was in jail, so the rest of us hopped on a Greyhound and took the three-and-a-half day bus ride to the Bay. My mother eventually joined us.
Despite the move to Oakland, my parents would continue to struggle with drugs, and as a result we lived in several shelters.
THE TEACHER WHO CHANGED IT ALL
Once I got to junior high, I had an algebra teacher named Mr. Brown—this tall Black dude with an imposing stature.
But he was able to connect with me and build my confidence in a way that no other teacher had. He was hard on me. He told me I was responsible for me, no one else was. I had to choose success. I had to choose to be different than what I saw.
At the end of the school year, I got the highest grade in his class, and it felt amazing. After that, I never looked back.
THE COMMUNITY THAT MADE ME WHO I AM
The hard truth is that the majority of teachers I had either couldn’t or just didn’t try to reach me.
Fortunately, a lot of my education came from folks in my community—like my barber shop, my church, the donut shop, the bookstores and my friends. For instance, my mom had a friend who was big on Black Power and understanding where we, as Black people, come from. She inspired me to read the “Autobiography of Malcolm X” and that changed my life.
I learned early that education was going to be my way out of poverty. With the help of Mr. Brown and my community I saw that doing well in school could open other opportunities.
North Oakland helped me. It raised me. It taught me that I was resilient. It taught me that even when public education “failed me,” I could learn how to navigate the system and use it to create a better life for myself.
And that’s what I did.
That’s why I work within education now, to help other students like me overcome their circumstances. I know the impact a great education can have on students, their families, their community and the world. We all we got, so I’ll fight for my people until I no longer can.
Visit BecauseTheyCan.com to find out how to close the Belief Gap.
Take it from me a parent. It is time for some unconventional measures that are colorful and as diverse as a rainbow yet work in a practical sense for everyone in the room. As I navigate the world of education on both sides of the spectrum I can’t help but to notice a mundane world of old habits instead of a space of fresh ideas and actions. One such course of action that generally gets parents talking is the constant overuse of buzzwords.
What is a buzzword anyway?
A Buzzword: A word or phrase often an item of jargon, that is fashionable at a particular time or in a particular context.
First off, I do believe that everyone who habitually uses these buzzwords are genuine in their commitment and desire to do right by kids and educate them the way they deserve. We may differ on how that goal should be funded but I hope we can agree that all children are equally deserving of a high quality education in a publicly funded school. And let’s not get it twisted; education enthusiasts on both sides of the debate are responsible for giving life to these words and phrases. These are some of the buzzwords.
This has to be the most used and recognized one of all. And though I do believe that families deserve to have quality options, it’s the context or lack thereof when using the phrase that I believe gets regular folks questioning this notion. Many don’t even really understand what “school choice” is. And isn’t. I believe and have had conversations with other parents with similar beliefs that it is impossible to speak about school choice without addressing the rising cost of transportation associated with it, at least here in Louisiana.
Moving beyond the words themselves, there are issues of substance that we must address. If we are to move forward collectively we must figure out how to curb the enormous expense and impact that transportation has on a school’s operating budget. An article in The Lens by Della Hasselle and Marta Jewson reveals the enormity of this problem.
The cost of busing students to New Orleans’ public schools has risen by about 67 percent since the school year before Hurricane Katrina when it cost $18 million . This year, it’s $30 million, although there are fewer students and schools now.
One cannot speak about school choice without at least considering solutions for the problems and challenges surrounding school choice. Our conversations need to be more inclusive of the good and the bad that go along with the ‘School Choice” that we champion.
Another factor that weighs heavily on school choice is the enrollment process. In New Orleans, our OneApp system that was started and then overhauled by two nobel prize winning economists is still a subject for debate. Parents know that the process still needs tweaks if it is to truly benefit the families it is designed to serve. Just as recently as last April glitches and flaws in the system garnered heavy backlash from parents who were trying to prepare early for the next school year. The system allows for deadlines to be too close to one another forcing parents to risk losing placements and money in other schools as they wait for news on their OneApp.
This just may be the buzzword that most parents hear the most. Districts and charters use the term, some in meaningful ways, other in empty ways. Since my aim is to bring about positive conversation and change, I’ll give a few examples of what I see as being effective parent engagement in the hope that it sparks conversation and action.
- A quality parent center. One with resources and the ability to access those resources that includes several computers, copy machines, and internet access. While many take all of this for granted, there are families who lack access these very basic amenities.
- A better translation system. At my daughter’s school the act of translating meetings, ceremonies and everyday school functions was becoming cumbersome and antiquated. The administration invested in a translation system that allows parents to wear a headset that translates in real time. In my opinion, it has brought more unity and understanding between students and adults to our school.
- A meal. Providing a meal to families who are expected to attend an after-school function on a weekday. The strain that this takes off of a parent before or after attending an important parent teacher conference, math night or award ceremony can be a game changer.
Moving away from just talking about encouraging parents to actually doing it can bring about a renewal in terms of the relationship between school and home. We must function together as a team that embraces our responsibility for the future or our children.
“Equity and Equality”
These words literally are used by all in education but fly well over the heads of parents and families and even some of the folks using them, if you ask me. Wouldn’t it be a good notion to have the people who are working to empower understand exactly what is being said? I am sure that education enthusiasts can come up with a way to speak about equity and equality in terms that are clear and make sense to parents. So let’s do it.
In the end, we are all allies working to achieve all three of the buzzwords and catch-phrases I’ve highlighted here. We fight for school choice, parent engagement, equity and equality. Let’s recognize that our power is in our unity around a common goal. Demanding that more action accompany the words we speak, the pieces (and tweets!) we write will bring us closer to our goals. And that is good for kids.
The New Orleans Alliance for Diversity and Excellence: Why Diverse Leadership Matters for New Orleans’ Schools
The transformation of New Orleans public schools is often told like this: Before Katrina, the school system was failing due in part to leadership and low quality teachers. After the storm, teachers were let go and public schools were rebuilt with an influx of new talent and a new commitment to accountability.
But this is not the whole story. While numerous changes ushered in after Katrina were positive, such as students making significant academic gains and graduation rates this turnover of teachers and principals caused a profound shift in who is teaching and leading public schools in New Orleans. Before the storm, about 80% of teachers in New Orleans public schools were African American; today it is less than 50%. With the exodus of these African American educators, our public schools lost a sense of history and culture that was difficult to replace. Mr. Lee Green an ADE member states,” that after Katrina the landscape of New Orleans education changed, but is encouraged by the growth of New Orleans students.”
While the educators teaching in New Orleans schools are different today, very little has changed about the students who attend our public schools. During the 2012-13 school year, 88% of the students in RSD and New Orleans public schools were African American and 82% received free or reduced price lunch. These numbers are largely the same as before 2004, although the concentration of African American students is higher (95%) in RSD schools than in Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) schools (62%).
The Alliance for Diversity and Excellence a new organization with 35 leaders of color who serve as teachers, principals, senior level executives and education sector leaders in New Orleans aims is to increase the number of Black male teachers and leaders of color on every level and foster a professional development community for all leaders throughout New Orleans. The average leaders in the ADE range between 7-20 years of experience in New Orleans education sector today. This aspect truly matters states Robert Hill ADE member,” because our students particularly our boys are in crisis. Virtually 99% of all the juveniles arrested in New Orleans last year were African American, yet less than 2% of the leaders in our public schools are black men”. Today more than ever, our students need role models who can provide a vision of what is possible with education. Our students deserve diversity and representation for everyone.
Sean Goodwin and ADE member states, “we are building connections among leaders of color in New Orleans schools through a new organization called the Alliance for Diversity and Excellence (ADE). The goal of the ADE is to recruit, train, and provide professional development for leaders throughout New Orleans to improve the academic performance and social and emotional needs of students.”
By recognizing the talent in our midst and raising up more leaders of color to take on leadership roles in New Orleans schools, we aim to create a pipeline of educational leaders of color, build support for charter schools in the urban community and share best practices for closing the achievement gap for public school students in New Orleans.
The ADE is a new effort, but our strength comes from the legions of passionate, high quality educators in New Orleans who have worked to make a difference for the children of this wonderful city, both before Katrina and in the years following.
The students and families of New Orleans have big dreams for their future. By working together, we can bring our best ideas, teamwork and commitment to make these dreams a reality.
Lastly, the ADE will host a panel discussion with the 100 Black men of Greater New Orleans centered on how schools and community can work together to protect students from the streets of New Orleans, January 24, 2017 at Dooky Chase restaurant starting at 6:00 pm and will host an awards breakfast February 11, 2017 to highlight leaders in education.
This piece was written by Lamont Douglas, Amanda Aiken and Jamar Mckneely
New Orleans native, Douglas Butler Jr., has spent the last 8+ years working tirelessly to give back to all students and families with whom he comes into contact. Serving as both a math instructor and dance coach at L.B. Landry- O.P. Walker College and Career Preparatory High School, Butler believes strongly in the strength and power of community and has been focused on ways to empower himself to continue to transform lives through education. One way Butler looks to himself to do this is by furthering his own education as he teaches, thus demonstrating what discipline, hard work and consistency really look like. Butler anticipates receiving his Ph.D in 2020.
Why are you so passionate about the work you do?
I’ve always loved school. I loved school as a child and I love it even more now. When I was in primary school, I acted as if I were the teacher, helping others in my class and ensuring that all my classmates were able to work we were given. Throughout my high school summer breaks, I would run my family’s daycare. My passion for teaching permeated throughout my summer experience when I would teach my younger relatives daily. My passion for learning and exposing young people to enriched experiences has now manifested into a career that I find both rewarding and relational. Fostering positive relationships has allowed me to grow young people both academically and socially, a responsibility that I don’t take lightly.
Are you concerned about the shortage of Black male educators our community? If so, what action steps do you think need to happen to increase their presence?
It’s no secret that there’s a shortage of African American male teachers in our schools. My greatest concern is not that we don’t have adequate teachers; it’s the fact that African American males aren’t being seen as relevant in all of our communities. One thing to note is that African American male teachers serve as role models for all students across diverse lines. When there is an African American teacher in place, it shows that the African American male can hold a place of power within our ever evolving society. I believe that this is important for all races and classes of people because the lack of African American male teacher challenges us to recognize forms of oppression and systemic issues that prevent, restrict, and annex African American teachers to be relevant additions to our education system.
Do you find that there’s pressure with being a black male educator? If so, how do you address this?
Pressure as a black male in general is a problem. I notice that black educators in general are always under scrutiny. The challenge to be great is the challenge to function within a flawed system that views black educators as inadequate; inadequate through the lens of academics, but adequate through the lens of discipline. It seems as if the “powers” that are in control of our educational system view us as a disciplinarian versus a scholar. The two are equally important, however, when folks view us as “keepers” of African American students, it diminishes our role. Sometimes pressure for me means making those folks aware of their unconscious expectations around my role. Pressure from an academic role is to adhere to the many changes that occur within state mandates. Pressure from a community standpoint comes for the need to replace a sometimes absent male role model, which presents all types of challenges. One challenge is ensuring that my students understand that while I can also be Uncle Doug, my job title is Mr. Butler.
Do you feel supported within your role as a black male educator?
It’s hard to answer this question because I feel that the system should provide another degree of support in general. From my role solely as a black male educator, I think that there could be more support around finding a mental balance of the issues that we are plagued with daily. Sometimes I wonder how many more times will I have to bear the news of one of my students being killed or murdered or incarcerated. When I first started this work my expectations were much like a banking model; I expected to get back what I put in. But I learned quickly that that is not always the case. That mindset has changed drastically, and now I recognize that the work of education, especially in an urban setting is much like a stock market. There are some losses, and mostly there are some gains, but you go into the situation knowing there’s a level of inherent risk. Conversely, I’m not sure if the analogy is always represented in the context of what happens daily as when things seems to not be going well one can remove their investment and cut their losses; that’s not true with students. There’s no cutting your losses and there’s no reinvesting. I guess my expectation around support is that support is provided in a holistic way that embodies not just instructional growth but the capacity of building teachers to accept both the losses and gains.
What are some of the challenges you see our youth and their families up against?
One main challenge I see is education from a systemic perspective. The hardest challenge is to educate parents about their children’s education when they don’t have a point of reference to compare the experiences that I’m trying to provide as a teacher.
Despite the challenges that may come along with educating our NOLA youth, what keeps you going?
The belief in change. While it’s a slow process, change is happening, and mostly for the better. I think we are all going into education with the ideal that our youth are more than capable to rise to the occasion. The progress of this keeps me going .
Years from now, as both educator and coach, what do you want your legacy to be?
I want children to remember a teacher who was both compassionate and stern. I want children to remember a teacher who both believed and cared. I want children to remember that anything is possible, and the challenge that many of them face is themselves. Once that realization is made, young people can navigate through other barriers that prevent them from excelling.
School discipline represents more than just a strategy to deal with misbehaving children. It is also a measure of the compassion we have for the most troubled children. As we review the highlights of Louisiana’s school discipline news in the past year we can reflect upon what we have learned.
In January 2016, we kicked off the year with a column by Jarvis DeBerry that proposed a shift in the way schools and lawmakers look at children and their misbehavior. DeBerry commented on a report that demonstrated how many New Orleans children are have been exposed to trauma. A survey of 1,200 New Orleans children 10 to 16 years old showed 54 percent of them have lost somebody close to murder. About 40 percent have seen somebody shot, stabbed or beaten, 38 percent have witnessed domestic violence, and 18 percent have seen a person murdered. The article’s takeaway was that children are “sad, not bad.”
Yet, during the spring legislative session, we were reminded that schools continue to ignore the causes of children’s behavior and opt for punishment in lieu of support. The Louisiana Weekly published an article in May: “Louisiana school suspension rates soar above national average.” Louisiana school children are suspended at rates 130% higher than the national average, with elementary children experiencing suspension at 200% higher rates. The article reported on two house bills (HB 833 and 372) introduced in the 2016 session that presented opportunities to address the issue. Unfortunately, both bills failed as a result of powerful opposition by school boards, superintendents and teachers who did not want to give up their decision-making autonomy.
However, over the summer, a couple of local heroes brought attention to school discipline issues and gave us hope. One article highlighted the story of Andrew Jones, an honors student and “standout athlete” who was blocked from participating in his graduation ceremony because of the Tangipahoa Parish’s policy on facial hair. He instead held his celebration at the African-American Heritage Museum, and his case gave rise to questions about racial bias and how schools reward and punish children. Additionally, Troi Bechet, an actress, singer, social worker, and founder of the Center for Restorative Approaches was featured in an article that explained how her organization is intervening in the school-to-prison pipeline. She explained that training young people and their teachers to talk out problems instead of resorting to suspension or expulsion can prevent students from dropping out.
In the fall, we saw the discussion about who gets suspended from public schools carry over into a new 24-member state panel, the Advisory Council on Student Behavior. The council is tasked with studying issues of school discipline and seclusion and restraint and making recommendations to the legislature. In particular, one of the meetings focused on the high rate of suspensions of elementary students, and the Advocate released an editorial calling on lawmakers to “Take a close look at early-age school suspensions.”
However, we were also reminded how far we still have to go, as the issue of corporal punishment has once again been raised. One news outlet reported that parents seemed mostly in support of the practice, despite a call by the Obama administration to end corporal punishment and reports of significant racial disparities.
At the end of 2016, it is clear that we need to continue the dialogue about school discipline. However, the fact that the issue has made headlines numerous times throughout the year speaks to the possibility of change. We can see signs of hope in the actions of our students, teachers, and community leaders, so that we might believe DeBerry’s sentiments will someday become the prevailing approach to discipline. Most recently, in an article about one school’s trauma-informed pilot program, a teacher was quoted: “I do respond differently. I attempt a more compassionate approach to understand the behavior and then guide the student to other more appropriate responses.” Change is slow, but perhaps the discourse of 2016 has signaled a shift in the way we think about discipline.