I had the good fortune last year to serve as a facilitator for Beyond Bricks, a series of community-wide conversations on how to drive excellence within our school system.
The data presented showed that 86 percent of the children in the EBR public schools live in poverty. This includes thousands of children who experience food and shelter insecurity on a regular basis. Whatever criteria used for evaluating schools and the accompanying evaluation of teachers and principals must not ignore this tragic statistic! Moreover, my work as the executive director of the Gardere Initiative provides real evidence for the unfairness of the repercussions of these evaluations. While I support the use of report cards because accountability is important for parents, educators and taxpayers, I disagree with the use of the data.
Rather than using the report cards to determine how we can pool our resources to improve the grades of all schools, it appears that they are used to punish principals and teachers whose workday revolves around a thousand moving pieces far beyond their control. Here are a few things that happened in our immediate neighborhood just prior to semester exams: Three children were sent to other schools because of housing issues.
Another five children moved across town, and although the move was disturbing and disruptive, they were transported to their regular school. For two weeks, 13 people shared a 1,000-square-foot dwelling because one family was evicted. Eight children in another family missed two days from school the week prior to semester exams because the mom was in the hospital and there was no one to walk the children to the bus since they had recently moved and bus transfers had not been completed.
These circumstances are repeated exponentially across EBR. As a psychologist by profession, I am comfortable in reasoning that each situation adversely affected the academic performance of these children. Principals and teachers ought not to be held accountable for these extenuating circumstances that are outside their realm of responsibility.
Although those of us who provide volunteer tutoring day after day at the Gardere Initiative feel disappointed and discouraged when the children’s report cards fail to reflect the amount of effort put forth, it’s nothing compared with the frustration that principals and teachers must feel when their jobs and schools are continuously threatened to be taken over by the state.
Threats need to be replaced with increased resources to these schools. The private sector and government entities need to work together to address the poverty level in the parish. Let’s be reminded of Fredrick Douglass’ quote, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Collectively, we can do better.
Murelle G. Harrison
executive director, Gardere Initiative