Heroes in Education: The Belief in Possibilities


Recently I was asked to present an award at the 2015 OPEN Public Education Awards. The gala showcases innovators and exemplars in public education telling the untold stories of successful schools in New Orleans. I was thrilled to be invited and grateful for the opportunity, yet I had no idea of the impact the event would have on my perception of education.

With so many people offering up their opinions on education these days, I recognize that there is a need to take a deep breath, weed out distorted views and come to the realization that the future is moving in the right direction.

As I became more familiar with each one of the honorees, it didn’t take long for me to see why New Orleans is experiencing a resurgence.

The first honoree of the night was the staff and faculty of Mahalia Jackson Early Childhood and Family Learning Center. Mahalia Jackson provides an array of community-based services, surrounding their students with programs to set them on the right track from birth with help for their parents as well. By focusing on the entire family, they work to remove poverty as a barrier to academic success.

The second honoree, Morris Jeff Community School, is community school that has a holistic and child-centered atmosphere. They are distinguished as the only elementary school in Louisiana that is an International Baccalaureate World school. Morris Jeff’s Primary Years Programme aligns with Common Core and its students communicate in both English and Spanish.

Next to be recognized was the International School of Louisiana, which was founded in 2000 by a group of parents eager to improve the quality of public education in the state. Its parents envisioned a public school offering a foreign language based academic program. ISL is Louisiana’s first language immersion charter school and was named “Charter School of the Year” by the Center for Education Reform. From the first day of school, students are taught core academic subjects in French or Spanish.

We also celebrated two superior high schools: Benjamin Franklin High School, the best in the state, and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.

New Orleans Charter Middle School led the way before Katrina as New Orleans’ first charter school. Jay Altman and Anthony Recasner, co-founders of NOCMS, prioritized holistic personal development over test scores. They focused on highlighting a child’s strengths, whether they be dance, engineering or spoken word while simultaneously meeting their academic requirements. Emotional and social development were cornerstones of their groundbreaking curriculum as well.

Any successful community has to have mentorship that teaches the way life should be lived to future generations. Lloyd Dennis and the many volunteers of the Silverback Society who work with boys in the community are part of a mentoring movement and a gift to New Orleans.

Another gift is STEM NOLA which encourages the young and curious to pursue the sciences. Started by Calvin Mackie, a former engineering professor at Tulane, it has doctors, engineers, scientists and techies coming in to offer their expertise and knowledge to our local children.

I came away inspired by the evening. New Orleans has the tools, knowledge and the people to move children further. Now we need to rally up our people, get them excited again and get the word out.

Believing is a start and acting on that belief can produce results of epic proportions. The future of education is being modeled proactively in New Orleans by dedicated educators, innovators and community leaders. These individuals are lending their passion and skills to actively shape a promising educational landscape that changes the lives of children and young adults.

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