A smart player in Louisiana education reform is going out on the top of her game. "With each passing year, we are seeing more graduates leave high school better prepared to go forth into the world, and that is an achievement New Orleans can own with pride," Leslie Jacobs recently wrote in her last post for Educate Now!, the nonprofit she used to push education improvements in the Crescent City. Jacobs used the post to announce that the nonprofit is slowly going away, though the website will be retained for a while. She told readers she wants to spend more time on her personal life, which will include grandchildren.
Obviously, it is a time of major change for the city's education system, as most schools in the city are already returned, or in the process of returning, to a new and revised version of the Orleans Parish School Board. It is a great national experiment, with a central office not as a burdensome bureaucracy but as a charter-school authorizer and oversight body.
Jacobs was a young education activist and member of the old pre-Katrina board, struggling against a tide of mediocrity in the city's schools. She subsequently served with great disctinction on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. With colleagues like Paul Pastorek of New Orleans, later a state superintendent, the reformers worked with visionaries of both parties — particularly, Gov. Mike Foster — to bring accountability to public education.
The fruits of their efforts have been significant, with student assessments going up and dropout rates going down; with a new stress on success in the classroom; with barriers to the exigent path of social promotion for kids not making the grades.
Obviously, the disaster of the 2005 hurricanes and flooding remade the New Orleans educational landscape, but a great deal of the framework for innovation had been put into place throught Jacobs' penetrating intelligence and persistence.
Perhaps above all, persistence: As she writes, "This next decade of education reform in New Orleans will be no easier than our last. Much work remains to be done if we want even more of our students to achieve post-secondary success and have well-paying careers."
"This next chapter will rely heavily on a new generation of innovative advocates and educators who have the fire in the belly to tackle our remaining challenges," Jacobs said. "We must welcome their fresh thinking, talent, and ideas if we are to achieve our goal of quality, access, choice, and equity for all families. The continued progress of our city and its children depends on it."
That it does, but it builds upon achievements in which Leslie Jacobs was a major player. We hope she will continue to raise her voice in issues in years to come.