Wholesale makeover of New Orleans schools after Katrina sows impressive progress, bitter recriminations _lowres

Advocate staff photo by John McCusker -- Tiana Nobile teaches her first grade class at Morris Jeff Community School in New Orleans. Morris Jeff is one of many charters that opened in New Orleans post Katrina.

During this decade of rebirth following Hurricane Katrina, one of the more remarkable transformations has been New Orleans’ K-12 education landscape. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, public education in New Orleans was experiencing its own mini-disaster. We had a school board that was completely dysfunctional, the system’s finances were a mess and worst of all, children were not learning.

While significant education reforms were enacted just prior to Katrina, it took this tragedy that claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Louisianans to force us to make changes that we all knew needed to be made.

The things that held us back for so many years — corrupt politicians, turf wars, and the desire by many to maintain the status quo — were washed away by Katrina.

The disaster thrust upon stakeholders — parents, school boards, lawmakers, unions and reform advocates — the urgency to come together to create an educational environment that would put children and families at the forefront.

What’s ahead in the next 10 years for education in New Orleans?

We must look to parents, who are now more informed, empowered and engaged in the education of their children.

They are saying loudly and unequivocally, “Don’t go back!” This is a window of opportunity, opened by Katrina, that cannot be closed.

We won’t reach the finish line until all choices are good choices; where every school is an excellent school, in every New Orleans neighborhood.

Ann Duplessis

president, Louisiana Federation for Children

New Orleans