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Four Years, One School, Thirty-Five Thousand Students

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Last week was the first day of school for students attending Langston Hughes Academy Charter School—the city’s first newly constructed school facility since Hurricane Katrina.IMG_7457

Hughes’ campus, on Trafalgar near the Fairgrounds, encompasses 96,000 square feet and was built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, meeting new federal regulations such as handicap accessibility in restrooms, energy efficiency and spacious 900-square-foot classrooms equipped with expansive windows. Hughes is a school of the future with a modern, green design, innovative technology-ready classrooms (some with computerized blackboards), special education areas, a media center, full cafeteria and kitchen, and gymnasium.

Great. The nearly 500 students who were able to get into this public tuition-free school will receive the type of learning environment they deserve.

But no doubt, just across town a student bends over a marred desk in a dingy classroom housed in a broken down old building, holes in the floor, the room barely cooled by an outdated a/c unit. How long will it take before this young boy or girl has the opportunity to spend the day learning in a modern, innovative facility? Will he or she ever have such an opportunity?

A recent article posted on WDSU.com presents a case in stark contrast to Hughes. Martin Berhman Elementary, a school in operation since December 2005, is struggling with a facility that’s in serious disrepair. Ramsey Green, a representative of the Recovery School District is quoted as saying, “We have so many needs, and we have a limited amount of money.” The article Recovery School District Called To Action For Repair begins:

The Algiers Charter School Association is taking the Recovery School District to task for the deplorable conditions at one elementary school.

Martin Berhman Elementary School needs a new roof, and school leaders said recent rains have made a bad situation even worse.

The school is one of the best-performing schools in the Recovery District, but some said its building is among the worst.

Members of the Algiers Charter Association said repairs to the school can’t happen soon enough.

“I would say we need it yesterday,” said Dr. Andrew Thomas-Reynolds, of the Algiers Charter Association. “It’s been raining. That has been causing grave concern for our students here.”

At Martin Berhman Elementary School, when it rains, it literally pours into the classrooms. The school needs a new roof and has for a while, officials said.

“We were scheduled to have the temporary roof completed in July, but for whatever reason, that has been prolonged,” Thomas-Reynolds said. “What we are hoping is that we can get some resolution from the Recovery School District timely.”

An extensive amount of moisture in the building has caused or exacerbated other problems, like mold and mildew. The paint peeling, walls crumbling and floors beginning to buckle in some places are all problems that the Algiers Charter Association said it does not want swept under the rug.

There are even termites in the building.

395001aWith so many schools, like Berhman, needing extensive repairs, we have to ask is the best way to build an equitable system to spend $20-30 million of limited funds on new facilities that will take years to complete, as most students continue to attend and attempt to learn in sub-standard facilities? If the answer is yes, then we must challenge ourselves to figure out how to speed up the process. If no, then we must develop better alternatives.

It took four years to build Hughes, one of the five FEMA financed “quick start” schools and the first to open. But it met with a number of construction delays and missteps, right up until the week before the first day of school when the front steps had to be rebuilt to code. What does that say about the prospect of the other 93 schools being constructed or renovated anytime soon, or in a timely and acceptable manner?

For comprehensive data on Langston Hughes Academy Charter School, Martin Berhman Elementary School, or any New Orleans public school visit Public Schools of New Orleans School Close-Ups.

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