The Second Line Blog

Still a Ways to Go

Bill Quigley, law professor and contributor to the Huffington Post, details the NAACP’s moratorium on New Orleans’ charter schools until ongoing issues have been addressed to better the school environment for all charter students.  Among problems with accountability and transparency, many students also voiced their opinions about being educated in the charter schools.

“We really wanted to share what happens in our schools. How the few permanent teachers we have work so hard for us, how so many classes are ran by short term substitutes, how food runs out at meal times, and how we worry if our school’s reputation is good enough to support us in getting into the college or careers we want. We shared how we face two hour commutes to and from school, are forced to experiment with digital learning with systems like Odyssey, are punished for having the wrong color sweater, or how we worry about being able to attend a school that will give us the education we need.”

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You Don’t Have to Stay or Repay

State Senator Jay Luneau proposed SB 110, which would require recipients of the TOPS award to remain in Louisiana for a few years after graduation or be faced with the penalty of repaying.  While SB 110 would keep talent in Louisiana, it did not go over well with many of Luneau’s colleagues.

“We’re the ones who caused the problem in the first place by not having a business climate that creates jobs that these kids can go into.”

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Feeling Abandoned

 

Maybe I’m just a parent who should stay in my lane and leave the business of education to the well-experienced professionals who do this for a living and make the best decisions they can for the benefit of the entire education system of New Orleans and particularly OPSB. Because obviously we don’t have all the details and we should trust the elected officials of the school board and the Superintendent that they appointed and his dedicated team. They do have our best interest at heart and in mind right. We should allow them to do their job without wondering, questioning or pushing back against any decisions they make.

Yeah, right and be that as it may, I still feel that it is essential to share some thoughts about recent actions by our school superintendent Henderson Lewis and an advisory committee on the most recent school on the chopping block, Mahalia Jackson Elementary School. To question is the American way. To inquire about a subject and demand representation is the Democratic way. So here I am.

As a parent, it’s hard not to have questions and concerns when it comes to the actions of our elected officials and the Superintendent that they appointed and who currently makes sweeping decisions that affect so many families. The Mahalia Jackson Elementary school closure is just one in a series of actions that has parents confused and frustrated.

If Mahalia Jackson Elementary was on the verge of closing then why did the charter organization that the school board supported to take over the remaining schools use Mahalia Jackson Elementary in its application in bidding for their takeover of district schools? Surely with the close relationship between the two organizations, the ExCEED network had to have an inside track on what was potentially going to happen with the school. Or was it only after the independent evaluator questioned some financial numbers that the ExCEED network was using in their bid about rental income from other organizations that utilize the campus as well? Numbers that they evaluator saw as risky business dealings. An evaluation that ultimately leads to the evaluator making the claim that ExCEED wasn’t established enough to run a group of schools.

It seems odd that only days after the independent evaluator submitted its decision about ExCEED network that the decision to limit the school’s enrollment to only siblings of current students was made. It also seems suspect that the district would limit enrollment and make decisions to close the school with two more rounds of One App to go.

This decision was made in March and relayed to parents last week. I cringe at the thought of any closing that is announced after the One App deadline. It makes decision making and planning harder for parents and yet elected officials and OPSB administration staff will claim that their number one responsibility is to provide a quality education landscape for families.

I’m not seeing that here.

Having gone through a school transition already and hearing school officials name my daughter’s school’s for potential closure, it’s getting hard not to see the writing on the wall.    When I heard that they suggested a closure of Mahalia Jackson Elementary, I had to literally stop in my tracks.  I laughed. They can’t be talking about that beautiful campus that adorns Jackson Ave and sits in the heart of central city. They can’t be talking about the very school where I have attended OPSB parent engagement and parent liaisons meetings. They can’t be talking about that refurbished campus that houses other community organizations and a library.

It didn’t make any sense. But then my mind started turning and experience kicked in. The school board representative for the district, Ben Kleban, acknowledged that the campus could be used for future schools and that they will work with the community organizations in the building. Well, why didn’t you say that in the first place? We have literally gone through a dog and pony show and been made to feel like they are keeping us in the loop about Mahalia Jackson Elementary only to have the decision about closure sprung on us at the final hour. And then, twenty-four hours later, we hear the first mention about how they may use the building to house another school. It is clear that school officials at OPSB have no problem abandoning families and students when they have alternate agendas for the buildings they occupy.

Do us all a favor next time school board members and Superintendent Henderson Lewis. Don’t play with families and students’ education while you secretly use our buildings as chess pieces in some game. We can’t trust you when you do that.

Please do better.

Not Quite 100%

Four district-led schools will remain in the district for now but may become charter schools in the near future.  While Exceed charter group looked to take over the remaining schools, it has since withdrawn its application.

 “New Orleans is unique, with the highest proportion of charter schools in the country. When and if the district sheds its last traditional responsibilities, it will set a national education landmark.”

read more here

Pain, Anger, and Confusion at the NAACP Hearing on Quality Education in New Orleans

The NAACP’s nation-touring ‘education task force‘ recently held their penultimate (6th of 7) hearing on quality education in New Orleans. The hearing, which took place on April 6th in the City Council Chambers, ended up serving as a venting session for a community that is clearly hurting and seemed ready to pounce on the historic civil rights organization’s education panel.

Alice Huffman on the Education Task Force

Following the NAACP’s highly divisive call for a moratorium on charter schools, the education task force was assembled to tour the country and “take a deep look at the issues facing public schools, as well as the pros and cons of charter schools”. Alice Huffman, chair of the task force, noted that following the final stop in New York, the national body would be reviewing all the information gathered and putting forth a document they hope will guide policy around charter schools.

Like previous stops in New Haven, Memphis, Orlando, Los Angeles, and Detroit, the city of New Orleans would provide a unique landscape for the education panel to survey, provided they were willing to analyze the history, data and facts objectively. No doubt NOLA was picked because of its one-of-a-kind system in which the entire district is nearly all charter.

The Crescent City hearing followed a similar arc as the others, with a majority of the time spent alternating between testimony of “experts” making their case for and against the NAACP’s moratorium. The “for” speakers (meaning anti-charter) included state rep Joseph Bouie, Loyola University law professor Bill Quigly, Attorney Willie Zanders, Walter Umrani of the ‘New Orleans Peacekeepers, and Adrienne Dixon who was listed as speaking for the American Federation of Teachers, but clarified that was a mistake, as she was speaking on her own behalf (oops!).

Those against the motion included charter schools leaders Niloy Gangopadhyay of Success Preparatory Academy, Jamar McKneely of Inspire Schools, and Kate Mehok of Crescent City Schools. Orleans Parish School Board member John Brown was listed as a speaker, but didn’t end up giving testimony.

The presentation portion of the hearing would go more or less the same as at all the other stops, with the “for” speakers warning of the dangers of privatization, decrying what they see as the nefarious practices of charters, and answering the same questions about “creaming”, discipline, and segregation that the task members have asked at each stop.

Like in the other cities, local charter school leaders highlighted their track records of success, and asked the board to not throw the baby out with the bath water, seeing the moratorium as generalizing, reactionary and unnecessary when some charters are finding such a high level of success with marginalized students.

But, the most important and emotional point of the forum would come when a group of students took over the floor, and in turn the meeting. The young speakers spoke passionately about the lack of resources, support, and in some cases, teachers at their school. They highlighted shoddy school conditions and the self-doubt they feel from their educators’ lack of belief in their abilities. They spoke out against arbitrary cutoffs for measuring their success and decried counselors and leaders who aren’t putting them in situations to succeed.

This stakeholder takeover of the forum, something that has been missing from some of the other stops, showcased the pain and frustration of the community. It also caused confusion, as it seemed many community members had come to air grievances with the local chapter of the NAACP, rather than the national body the task force represented.

 

Questioned on how she could support charter schools, by the students and heavily anti-charter audience, task force head Alice Huffman was irate. “I wrote the resolution calling for this moratorium”. Lost in the justifiable anger of the students and parents, were a few things. The task force was in fact calling out charter schools, and has lost most of its pretense of holding unbiased, objective hearings (“I would close them all if I could” -Alice Huffman) and the horror story shared by the students was that of a TRADITIONAL district school, one of the only five remaining in NOLA. Unfortunately, it’s not clear if the task force left understanding the distinction.

You can follow us @EdCitizen (and the hashtag #NAACPHearing) on Twitter for more coverage of the quality education hearing.

2.00 Dollar Dream

Karriem A. Bennett with the Hechinger Report, posted a young scholars letter addressed to Louisiana Rep. Nancy Landry after receiving her two dollar scholarship award from TOPS.

My name is Karriem Bennett, and I am a graduating senior of the class of 2017. I am also a registered voter. I was one that was counting on TOPS to assist me with the high cost of tuition. I worked hard all through high school, met the required ACT score, surpassed the required GPA, while working part-time jobs and dedicating over 900 hours to community service. I was awarded $2.00 for TOPS, a dollar a semester. I was devastated when I saw my financial award letter. I feel betrayed by the State of Louisiana.

read more here

Get Up, Stand Up and Take the OPSB Survey

 

“Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight.” A melodic invitation by Bob Marley to civic participation. A wake up call to notice what is right in front of us even though we either don’t see it or choose not to see it in the hope it will just fix itself. But we know better. Issues don’t delete themselves, in fact they are more prone to repeat themselves if we don’t proactively deal with them; reactions are often too late and then we are stuck figuring out how to deal with the aftermath.  

What can and should be done? What are our next moves? Take advantage of any and every civic engagement opportunity that crosses your path. Be a voice at any decibel level for your child, your nieces, nephews, cousins and friends’ children. Take a few minutes one day to visit a school when it’s not for a specific event; it will help you control the narrative around the visit. Ask questions and be interested and inquisitive, just as we are with our kids.

But Where Do I Even Start?

It’s hard and even intimidating to know what to ask or how to start.  Never fear, my friend, I have the perfect answer. The Orleans Parish School Board wants to hear from you and they are using a survey to learn what you think and how you feel about public education in New Orleans. The survey encompasses all public schools, both traditional and charter.   The survey will be posted until April 28 and all information about how to take it and or host an event for it can be found at the OPSB Website. You can also take the survey on your phone by texting “NOLAEDSURVEY” to 41411.

We have no excuse for not participating. They really have made it accessible to all of us.

The survey and other recent efforts are part of the Unification Process that is taking place within New Orleans Public Schools. These new events are about the rebuilding and rebranding of public education in our city. I truly believe these efforts are a step in the right direction for establishing an adequate school system that teaches our children holistically and will get back to the basics of education in our city. There is still lots of work to be done and elected officials need to hear from their constituents about what they need and demand. But this is a strong start and I am optimistic that it could be the spark to get some of my fellow New Orleanians off the sidelines and into the game.

Our elected officials work for us, the administration at OPSB work for the families of our great city so we should receive this olive branch and start working together for the educational betterment of our children.

Will taking a survey bring you to a school board meeting? I’m not sure but maybe it will.  Will taking a survey bring you to your child’s school to have a visit just to observe? I don’t know but that would be really awesome if it did.  

Let’s get in the game for our children. Let’s get informed for their future. Let’s get out in front of what we want to be done with us, for us and by us.

Every parent voice matters and our voices are stronger than we think.

 

NAACP Hearing on Quality Education held in New Orleans

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Monique Judge with the Root writes about how the NAACP is hosting the sixth of seven hearings discussing the impact of charter schools on underfunded school districts.

“In the African-American community and America broadly, public education represents sacred institutions built upon the blood, sweat and tears of our forebears—left as a legacy for today’s school children,” NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks.

read more here