New Schools for New Orleans

Public education in New Orleans has vastly improved in the last fifteen years. Our city’s graduation rate has skyrocketed from just over 50% in 2004 to almost 80% today. The percentage of students eligible for the state’s TOPS college scholarship has nearly doubled in that time. More children are being prepared to reach their dreams because our schools are stronger than ever.

Importantly, our unified system of schools in New Orleans is diverse in type and model. The  public schools in New Orleans give families the chance to choose the environment that’s best for their child. Our schools vary in educational philosophy, extracurricular offerings, size, and style; we have college-preparatory schools, arts-focused schools, Montessori schools, international and language-immersion schools, and more. No matter the neighborhood a child grows up in, they can apply to the school that fits their needs through OneApp.

One of these unique schools is Élan Academy on the West Bank, which calls itself “the little school under the bridge doing big things.” Élan educates pre-kindergarteners through 4th graders, and will be adding a new grade each year until 8th grade. Élan is more socioeconomically diverse than many other public schools in New Orleans. It is classically influenced and 21st-century-focused, with small class sizes and curriculum that incorporates Latin, classic literature, coding classes, and leadership development. Students also have the chance to learn violin through a partnership with Make Music NOLA. They’re seeing academic results: this year, Élan’s students outperformed the state and city averages for the percentage scoring Mastery and above on every subject of the LEAP test.

Founder and Head of School Melanie Askew worked as a founding teacher, instructional coach, curriculum content specialist, educational consultant, and adjunct professor prior to launching Élan Academy. Melanie has a Master of Education degree from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College and is pursuing her doctorate in Leadership and Learning in Organizations from Vanderbilt as well.

Why the focus on Latin? Askew says, “By exposing our students to Latin early on, they are able to break words apart and build meaning. We don't teach Latin so students become fluent, we teach it so they can become word-masters.

More than half of English words have Latin roots. It gives them ownership over the ACT and SAT vocabulary words they’ll need to be successful. And it’s a confidence booster - how many elementary students can say they’re learning Latin? It’s  rare.” Élan has strong family involvement and a thriving Parent-Teacher Association called Momentum. “They are the heartbeat of the school. Parents put on events like the fall fest, book fair, holiday shop, as well as different fundraisers. Some also come to the school and serve as room parents, provide support for teachers, or volunteer in the library.” The school also prides itself on individualized attention for each student, with a 12:1 student-teacher ratio. They also have a diverse staff, with over 65% of their teachers being New Orleans or Louisiana natives. “We see this as generational work, not only impacting the students in our building but their entire generation, their family, and their future families. We are building generations of leaders and supporting the change in the narrative around public schools in New Orleans. Our students work hard and we are pleased that our high expectations, strong parent and community relationships, and committed teachers resulted in Élan Academy performing above the state and city average. We look forward to continuing to provide the foundation necessary for our students to thrive in high-school and succeed in college.”

Élan is a special place, with striking academic success and a thriving culture and community. Each year in New Orleans, more and more students will be starting their year in classrooms like theirs—ones that are joyful, rigorous, and rich with opportunities for growth.

Content provided by New Schools For New Orleans. For more information, visit

Gambit's Digital Edition: Back-to-School Fall 2019