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Public Education News, Analysis and Views

CABL survey not an accurate measure of community and public education

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By Angela W. Daliet

Recently, many local news organizations and folks in education have been hailing the findings of an Orleans Parish voter survey commissioned by Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL). The survey was conducted August 6 through 11 in which 500 people were queried. Reputable analysts like Clancy DuBois (“The Next Big Fight”), journalists from WWLTV, The Times-Picayune (“New poll shows N.O. voters like changes in city’s school system”) and most recently, Baton Rouge’s The Advocate (“Our Views: Public mood on schools”) have accepted the results of the survey, released in August, as a fairly accurate measure of the community’s stance on several important issues facing the city. However, in terms of the survey’s results on the topic of education, I find them ambiguous at best.

A press release issued by CABL on August 27 stated the poll revealed “strong support for charter schools in New Orleans” and established that most residents want more traditional public schools converted into charters and are concerned about returning schools to the local school board. CABL concluded from their survey results that, overwhelmingly, New Orleanians do not want to go back to the way things were, but rather “continue with the changes in education since Katrina.”

As I see it, a major problem with the poll’s results is that those surveyed do not adequately reflect active participants, or those invested, in our current local public education system. Who better to know if these educational reforms are actually working?

Here are a few striking contrasts regarding CABL’s survey respondent demographics and that of public school families:

•    Last year’s revised Census Report shows less than 25% of New Orleans adults have a college degree or beyond whereas 50% of the survey’s respondents have the equivalent.

•    According to US Census Bureau in 2008, the average adult becomes a parent at about 29 years-of-age and the average age for first-time grandparents is approximately 51 years. Almost half of those queried (47%) were over the age of 54, and only roughly 22% of respondents fall into the average national age range of parents with school age children.

•    Overwhelmingly, most local public school families (approximately 83% according to the Louisiana Department of Education) qualify for free or reduced lunch (meaning a family of 4 earning less than $20,000 per year); yet the majority of those surveyed (75%) reported household incomes well above this amount.

An adequate attempt to measure public opinion regarding the state of local public education must include the thoughts and Child At Schoolobservations of those most closely involved: public school parents, teachers, and students. If an umpire isn’t watching a game or even in the stadium, can he really say how the players are doing? These individuals have firsthand knowledge and experience regarding the benefits and effects of local educational reforms. Their input is crucial to not only truly identify the community’s stance on public education reforms, but, more importantly, determine if they are actually improving schools for all children in New Orleans.

I question what respondents based their answers upon without such inside information and understanding.

Another problem with CABL’s survey is its query regarding whether local schools should be returned to the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) or remain with the Recovery School District (RSD).

No one would argue that the local public education landscape is ever-transforming and confusing. Even the most scholarly individuals often have difficulty grasping its complexities. Therefore, I find it difficult to assume that those surveyed actually know or understand the roles of the RSD or OPSB. If you are unable to distinguish the two organization’s functions, how can you actually evaluate their performance or determine if one is better than the other? And for that matter, why didn’t the survey offer an option to consider an alternative to both governing bodies? Other cities have Mayoral control, Community Councils, Appointed/Elected Boards, and other unconventional governance structures, so why not offer participants a “none of the above” option?

If I were a gambler, I would wager a higher bid that those polled couldn’t even explain the difference between a public charter and a traditional school.

It really bothers me that when asked if reforms are working, if anyone expresses their concerns, it is assumed these individuals want things the “old” way with mismanagement of funds, corruption, and generally not educating our children. Who in their right mind would want such a thing? But does that really mean that there isn’t another way? What about a “new” New Orleans way, driven by the people with local knowledge and experience? I say public schools are ours and we should have a say in what is happening inside them and to them.

My final observation is that those community members answering these important questions for the future of public education in New Orleans should not be led to an answer. The public education system has a long history of shading truths and leading reforms with their own agenda for the misinformed community. Unfortunately, well-publicized reports like CABL’s tend to reverberate and get repeated so often that they become widely accepted and ultimately inhibit deeper community inquiries.  By their own account, CABL took “a leading role in the state takeover of failing schools in New Orleans”, therefore it isn’t surprising that the questions were somewhat slanted to gain the answers sought.

Before we can improve schools in NOLA, we must have an honest and open conversation about transparency, accountability, sustainability, and the importance of authentic community engagement. Until each of us understands and accepts that we all have a role in transforming public education in New Orleans, we will continue to fail our children and our grandchildren.

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Written by Angela W. Daliet

October 7, 2009 at 8:33 AM

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.

Rebuilding Hynes

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It makes sense that SOSNOLA’s very first blog would be about Hynes Elementary School.HynesFleurdeLis

After all, executive director Angela Daliet is a Hynes parent. And the need to get Hynes re-opened after Hurricane Katrina so families could return knowing their children had a school to attend, laid the foundation for Save Our Schools NOLA.

She organized the community and pushed the district to get the school up and running in a temporary location for the 2006-07 school year after learning Hynes would potentially remained shuttered beyond 2010.  Her work on this project highlights SOSNOLA’s core value that in order to ensure equal access to better schools, citizens must be informed, organized and allowed to participate in decisions that affect their school and community

Now four years later, despite promises from the city and plans laid out in the School Facilities Master Plan that listed Hynes as a “quick start school”, the original campus remains a bleak, empty swath of land.

At an Orleans Parish School Board Property Meeting held yesterday at the school’s second temporary location on Gentilly Blvd (at the old St. James Major School), a formidable crowd gathered to hear a report from project design manager Jules Legarde (of CSRS/Jacobs Firm) on the status of rebuilding; and have their concerns addressed and questions answered. Teachers, school officials, students, parents and community members filled the gymnasium anticipating another revision to the projected completion date, now July 2011.

Which still seems a long way off.

One young 6th grade student asked if her 8th-grade graduation will be held at the new school. No one could answer for certain.

Angela’s efforts to reopen Hynes began in September 2005 when her youngest son was entering pre-kindergarten … he’ll be a 5th grader by fall 2011. Her oldest son will have long graduated, and her middle son won’t be far behind.

A Lakeview resident who had attended Hynes back in 1956 called the school the “nucleus” of the neighborhood and vital to drawing young professionals back to the area.

Principal Michelle Douglas spoke highly of the school and the city’s efforts, thanking the board for bring the Property Meeting to the school; then ended her remarks with a stern request for an immediate lease extension on the current building.

Watch a video on WWLTV.com of reporter Susan Edwards’ coverage of the event.

Written by SOSNOLA

August 15, 2009 at 5:53 PM