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Archive for December 2009

Get Schooled on Schools: Informed Citizens Make Smart Decisions

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SOSNOLA’s New Orleans Citizen Year-End Exam

(Worth 50 points)
1. Explain the differences between a Louisiana traditional public school and a Louisiana charter school. (Must give a minimum of three differences)

(Worth 50 points)
2. Explain the roles of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) and Recovery School District (RSD). (Must include list of all schools within each entity’s jurisdiction)

Would you pass this test? Most citizens would fail miserably.

Is it really important that you develop a better understanding of the local public education system and its current reforms? If you don’t, you will continue to be a part of the problem rather than the solution.

Should you care? If you want to live in a safe city that provides ample economic opportunity for you and your family, then yes, you absolutely should care.

Local public schools affect each and every New Orleanian. Rampant murders, soaring poverty, excessive juvenile delinquents, inflated insurance rates, and unstable property values are only a few factors affecting residents that are directly related to our city’s poor public schools. Until citizens make this connection and participate in improving public schools, the problems will only get worse. In order to ensure real improvements are implemented that truly increase student outcomes for all children, at a minimum, each of us must gain a better understanding of our public schools. Only then will citizens be able to intelligently participate in the conversation of where our public schools need to be.

Don’t assume you know without learning the facts.

There are important internal conversations going on between and amongst powerful local and state leaders regarding the future of public education in New Orleans, including which entity is better equipped to control the city’s public schools—the OPSB or the RSD—and whether or not New Orleans public schools are on the right path for real improvements around equity, quality, and accountability. Without knowledgeable residents contributing their thoughts and experience into these discussions, decision-makers will develop long-term plans for our public schools without a clue as to how these schools can and should serve the needs of New Orleanians.

So, get schooled on schools! Learn the facts below and continue to ask questions until you can pass SOSNOLA’s Year-End Citizen Exam.

OPSB, BESE AND RSD
Before Hurricane Katrina, the OPSB controlled 129 schools and BESE oversaw 2 charter schools. Following the storm, the state redefined “failing schools” and expanded their authority for a certain period of time over such schools in large, poor districts through legislation aimed at taking over most public schools in New Orleans. The new law required these schools be operated by the state’s latent “Recovery School District” for an initial period of 5 years, and stripped OPSB of the ability to open any new schools. The RSD gained control of 112 former OPSB schools and their buildings (not all have reopened) leaving 17 schools under direct control of the local district with BESE still operating their 2 charter schools. Currently there are 90 public schools open in New Orleans (54 charter and 36 traditional).

LOUISIANA BOARD OF ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION
•    Is the administrative policy-making body for all state public elementary and secondary schools
•    Is governed by a board of 11 directors (8 elected from state BESE districts and 3 governor appointed members-at-large) representing 8 districts
•    Sets key education initiatives, education agenda and curriculum for all public schools in the state
•    Serves as the governing authority for 2 local public charter schools

LOUISIANA RECOVERY SCHOOL DISTRICT
•    Serves as the governing authority for 40 public charter schools (see below for explanation)
•    Directly operates 31 traditional public schools (2 of which are “alternative” schools managed through a third party contract), managing budgeting, payroll, staffing, academic performance, reporting, etc.
•    Is overseen by Superintendent Paul Vallas
•    Has no local public board, but rather directly reports to State Superintendent and BESE
•    Has control over all closed public schools and their buildings

ORLEANS PARISH SCHOOL BOARD
•    Serves as the governing authority for 12 public charter schools
•    Directly operates 5 traditional public schools (2 of which are “alternative” schools managed through a third party contract), managing budgeting, payroll, staffing, academic performance, reporting, etc.
•    Serves as the traditional public school governing authority of New Orleans
•    Is represented by 7 districts with each district represented by an elected board member that serves a 4-year term
•    The board sets policy for district schools
•    Board meetings and activity are open to public review

CHARTER SCHOOLS
Louisiana’s purpose for the creation of charter schools is to provide the framework and mechanism for educational experimentation for improving academic achievement by which positive results will be broadly repeated or replicated and negative results identified and eliminated. There are 54 charter schools operating under OPSB, BESE and RSD.

The following are key concepts of local charter schools:

•    Authorized by OPSB or BESE for initial 5 years and subsequent renewals every 10 years
•    Revocation or non-renewal occurs by majority vote of chartering authority only if the school, its officers or employees do any of the following: violate charter agreement; fail to meet agreed upon academic results; fiscally mismanage resources; or breach applicable laws
•    Formed and overseen by a nonprofit corporation’s appointed board of directors with a requirement that 3 or more persons must hold a valid current Louisiana teaching certificate; no other experience, qualifications, or affiliations necessary (unless school imposes additional regulations upon itself)
•    Operate independently with public federal and state funding exempt from most traditional public school laws and regulations
•    Most are required to have open admission enrollment policy (any student from any neighborhood with any capability or history may attend) though several do have enrollment requirements

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Thoughts on Leadership

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Keith G.C. Twitchell, president of Committee for a Better New Orleans/Metropolitan Area Committee (CBNO/MAC) has been in leadership positions ranging from CBNO/MAC to being an Eagle Scout to being captain of Krewe du Vieux. SOSNOLA’s executive director Angela Daliet, a CBNO/MAC Bryan Bell Metropolitan Leadership Forum graduate (of a 10-week workshop series for emerging community leaders to gain a better understanding of the major issues facing New Orleans), recently had the privilege of listening to Keith’s take on leadership. Here he graciously shares some of his lessons and observations.

Thoughts on Leadership

By Keith G.C. Twitchell, Guest Blogger

Leadership is not something that I think is easily defined.  Even though any dictionary will have a nice little definition of leadership, I don’t think it can be so easily encapsulated.

  • There are many styles and forms of leadership.
  • Leadership is often shaped by circumstances and events, as we saw in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Leadership is working tirelessly to achieve consensus – and taking the lead in moving forward anyway whenever consensus cannot be reached – and taking the bullets that will inevitably fly from those whose views are different from the direction you take.

Leadership is a lot less about exercising power than it is about aiding others in finding their power.

Leadership is about sharing the credit and accepting the blame.  I remember reading an article some years ago contrasting the way Japanese corporations and American corporations operated.  The memorable line was that “In Japan, when there is a problem, they try to fix the problem; in America, when there is a problem, they try to fix the blame.”

Leadership is about listening first, then speaking the truths you hear.  It is knowing when to ask and when to tell.

Leadership requires seeing both the forest and the trees, and understanding the role and contribution of each tree in the forest.  In California, the redwood trees are magnificent, huge, the most amazing vegetation you will ever see.  Yet redwood trees have very shallow roots, and they only remain upright because their roots interlock, holding each other up.  Cut down a couple redwoods in a stand and the rest will fall too.

Leadership is about staying calm and focused right up to the point where getting really angry is the only tactic left.

Leadership is about always remembering what the objective is, regardless of the emotions, the conflicts, the flying bullets, the opposition, and the fear; and always acting in a way that enhances the chances of achieving the objective.

Lastly, leadership comes down to two things, both of which are words that are so overused these days that they are in danger of becoming meaningless; but I think they are still at the heart of leadership:  vision and accountability.

  • Leaders have a vision, whether it is for their neighborhood, their company or their country.
  • Leaders take the risk of articulating their vision, and commit to enrolling others in that vision.
  • Leaders nurture the growth of their vision, willing to let go of certain details, to allow others to expand  upon it and embellish it, but always making sure that its core integrity is maintained, and being responsible for defending that core integrity when necessary.
  • And leaders are always focused on the path to realizing that vision, not necessarily seeing the entire path right now, but leading the way to taking the immediate next steps while searching constantly – and collaboratively – for the rest of the path.

Accountability is simply saying that whatever happened here, I am responsible for it.

To summarize, leadership without vision is purely power-seeking, and vision without leadership is no more than daydreaming.

Written by SOSNOLA

December 2, 2009 at 1:58 PM