By Raynard Sanders, Ed.D. | Originally Published atThe New Orleans Tribune. January 22, 2015 | In August 2012, Recovery School District Superintendent Patrick Dobard gets off the school bus at James Weldon Johnson Elementary School in New Orleans. Since then, Johnson – which was one of the system’s last conventional public schools — has closed. At present, the building is temporarily housing the Sophie B. Wright charter, part of the radical change being watched by the nation’s educators. (Catherine Threlkeld, The Times-Picayune)
For the past nine years, the Recovery School District has had full control of practically all the public schools in New Orleans. The Recovery School District (RSD) has enjoyed unprecedented school funding from the Louisiana state legislature, federal government, and the national and international philanthropic community. Additionally the per-pupil expenditure for the RSD doubled and in some cases almost tripled the per-pupil expenditure for other school districts in Louisiana. State education officials and the Louisiana Legislature have given RSD full autonomy in its operations and waived policies and procedures that every school district is obligated to follow. For the past nine years the RSD has been widely supported by local, state and federal political leaders and received praise from media outlets around the world.
After Hurricane Katrina citizens of New Orleans were so frustrated with the Orleans Parish School Board that they welcomed the new leadership and promises of major improvement. And for many citizens recovering from Hurricane Katrina, public education was off of their radar.
However it didn’t take long for the RSD to change that. In its short tenure, the RSD has been very good at doing everything wrong. There have been consistent academic failure, violations of federal policy by not serving special needs students, non-transparency, numerous Louisiana Legislative Auditor reports of poor financial management, four superintendents in less than six years, unheard of transportation and security costs and selection of inexperienced charter operators who ignored the community needs and managed schools like private entities, while top staff makes unheard of salaries.
If it ever had it, the RSD has by and large lost the respect of the community and rightfully so given its performance and lack of connection with the parents and citizens of New Orleans.
Obviously this has become a problem for RSD, so much so they are starting a campaign to re-gain community support and respectability. That seems to make sense. The only problem is their campaign is not to improve the academic performance or run an efficient and fiscally responsible operation.
The RSD has joined with New School for New Orleans, a politically connected pro charter group, in issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) to groups to “organize parents in support of strong school authorization, school expansion, and closure decisions in New Orleans”. In other words the RSD is going to pay groups to persuade parents to support their work, which has been a dismal failure.
So don’t be surprised when real soon you start to see these astro-turf parent groups praising the wonderful work of RSD. This will all be done in an effort to give the public the impression of wide parent support for their work. These groups with colorful T-shirts will begin showing at school board and BESE Board meetings, community meetings and having press conferences cheerleading for the continued failed practices of the RSD.
It is not unusual for New Schools for New Orleans to support RSD’s plan, they also believe in “privatization at any cost and by any means necessary”. New School for New Orleans has received millions of dollars from numerous foundations interested in privatizing public education in America. Several years ago they received a $28 million federal grant to turn around 19 low performing schools in New Orleans and 8 low performing schools in Memphis and Nashville. Most recently as reported by journalist Kari Harden, they gave millions of dollars in grants to several schools to supplement the salaries of the charter operators and top administrators.
The sad thing about this misguided effort is that the RSD and NSNO thinks that coaxing parents and community groups to support makes their work will actually make the RSD any more successful.
They don’t realize that you get respect by creating quality learning environments for all children and developing a system that actually involves the community and responds to the community needs.
Unfortunately the logic behind RSD’s plan to gain community support is the kind of warped thinking driving public education in New Orleans. The RSD has become an entity where the needs of students and community are irrelevant.
If we’re are still embracing the failed practices of the RSD maybe the goal of the education reforms were never to improve academic achievement.
Maybe ignoring the needs of special needs students for more than eight years and not complying with the federal law until being taken to court is OK. Maybe having a school district where the state legislative auditor issues more that seven years of reports citing gross fiscal mismanagement is OK. Maybe turning over our schools to private entities managed self-appointed private boards that have turned our schools into profit centers for a few is OK
It is clear that the education reforms in New Orleans were about developing a governance model where a few people control the resources, public buildings and most importantly they decide which students go to which schools.
Raynard Sanders, Ed.D has over thirty years of experience in teaching, educational administration, and economic and community development. As a principal of a New Orleans high school, he developed the first high school DNA lab in the state of Louisiana and created the Creole Cottage Project, an innovative program for his students to build and renovate houses in the school’s community.
Dr. Sanders also served as the Executive Director of The National Faculty at New Orleans, a professional development agency designed to improve the quality of teaching in poor performing schools throughout the Mississippi Delta. He also served as the Director of the Urban Education Graduate Program at Southern University at New Orleans.
This piece was reprinted by EmpathyEducates with the kind permission of the Author, Raynard Sanders. We are grateful for the research and a community perspective. We also wish to express our appreciation for >, a historic publication, The New Orleans Tribune.