What is Community in NOLA Schools? by Mikayla Sanford

Day 5, NOLA

Community in NOLA schools is a term with a thousand and one different meanings. Community is the locals that live and breathe the culture here and the ones who just arrived. They were here before the storm and they remain after the storm. It is the Veteran teachers and the first year TFA teachers. Parents of kids in private schools and coaches who act as mentors, therapists, fathers, sex ed. teachers and counselors.

Community is passion that pumps the blood through the school system and out again. It is the business CEO's at chase bank that filter the money in and out of Andre Perry's pin striped pockets. It is the principals and board members and regional directors who sit in board rooms and enact five year plans. Community is the flood waters that took the place of children in school hallways. The water that washed away textbooks, desks, pencils, and the people that came back to pick up the pieces. It is anyone and everyone that ever thought about what rebuilding means for such a rich and diverse and left behind area.

Community is the land and the culture and the people and the history of is and all that will ever be NOLA. It is the Children. The children who study and take tests and take care of their brothers and sisters and cook meals and work three jobs and spend four hours on the bus each day getting to and from school. It is the hope and fear and passion that comes from sitting in the classroom connecting with others to discover what it means to rebuild this thing we call education.

Where is Community in NOLA Schools? by Max Schuner

Day 5, NOLA
Since returning to New Orleans this week, I’ve been struck again and again by the role of geography in the psychological and political life of this city. Neighborhood location and physical structures (roads, bridges, and canals) are huge determinants in threat of flooding, access to resources (including educational), and one’s self-defined culture. This is perhaps the “traditional” notion of community— a group of people bounded both by geography and social ties that has found some level of internal cohesion. In New Orleans, this “traditional” notion of geography is still extremely important in social and political life. The Upper Ninth Ward, the Seventh Ward, the West Bank and the Garden District are all important social sites and nodes of identity for their residents. After Katrina, I could see the significance of geographic-social community and networks of ground-level personal relationships in basic survival and maintenance of dignity of New Orleans residents. As a relief worker (and now as a visiting researcher), I struggled with this idea of community and had trouble defining and reconciling my own role as a white person not born in New Orleans as someone working in the Upper Ninth, a community largely defined by race, geography, and a deep common history.

Of course, “com- munity” is a floating signifier. Over the past week, I’ve heard “com- munity” used to describe an educational community of practice, the city of New Orleans in general, and the city’s political and business elites in particular. It’s been this last meaning that has been the most difficult for me to reconcile. I can see the thought behind it- in the view of some, political and business “leaders” are natural spokespeople for the rest of the socio-geographic community that is New Orleans. However, it’s also hard to deal with the fact that many people working in education see the businesses and politicians that have benefited from social and racial segmentation as being able to make decisions for the people (young, poor, largely black students) who have suffered from the city’s prevailing race and class structures.

These different ideas of community seem to be heavily mobilized in dis- cussions of charter schools and school choice. Again and again this week, people across the spectrum have iden- tified the dissolution of neighborhood schools and the institution of cross-town travel to schools as one of the most important aspects of the post-Katrina educational landscape. This seems like a major shift from geographically bounded ideas of community. In some ways the shift might be positive. While idealized concepts of community are nice, it does seem like youth culture in New Orleans was plagued by a deep territorialism that made it difficult to make connections between neighborhoods. Students attending schools across town might help lessen that dynamic. However, the change also weakens the potential for schools to be hubs of positive development and safe spaces in local geographic communities. The new New Orleans schools have unpinned geographic notions of community for students in a way that mirrors the deterrorialization process that has long been identified as a factor of globalization. This compounds the loss of rootedness that affected many of the city’s residents who were displaced by the storm.

This is a city with a deep history of strong geographic communities. Although it’s important not to idealize this history, as rooted in segregation as it is, it should also be recognized as a great source of resilience. Those of us interested in education in New Orleans should ask how schools can be spaces that strengthen and reinforce strong neighborhoods.

Is Public Education in New Orleans Being Rebuilt? by Ruthie Dreyer

Day 5, NOLA
To say the public education system in New Orleans is being rebuilt is mis- leading. The public education system in New Orleans is being dismantled. Pre-Katrina existed a centralized public school system that was run by the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB). Katrina was the catalyst for the beginning of the privatization of public education. Hurricane Katrina wiped out the previous system of public education and the State of Louisiana employed the Recovery School District to begin the take-over of public schools. This new experiment, the charter school movement, is an ugly, double-sided coin. Instead of being controlled by the OPSB and schools running on only state-given money, charter schools run under individual charter school boards that in addition to receiving public money get private money from private investors.

The pro-charter argument is that charter schools can offer autonomy for schools, choice for parents and then the most alluring benefit: better resources and space. I was shocked at the abundance of promethium boards and computers and the luxuriousness of some of the spaces we saw like the Medard Nelson School, New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, and Benjamin Franklin. Of course, books are a critical part of learning and children deserve to learn in pleasant environment with functioning bathrooms and plentiful libraries. But the resources were but a symptom of the larger sickness of the school system. The lack of resources in the previous pubic school system was a symptom of racism and neglect. Unfortunately racism and neglect still exist but our schools are looking much better three-dimensionally.

The most disturbing part of the privati- zation of the public school system is that the only two people who are actually in classrooms, teachers and students, have had absolutely no agency in this charter school movement. There are many engaging, intelligent, optimistic conversations happening about the future of public schools but none of them have included the people who actually give and receive education. The people are running schools and making decisions have little understanding about the practice of learning. It will be interesting to see how the theory of no-excuses, data-driven education fares in practice and if this five year experiment will result in whole citizens or very confused, neglected children.

NOLA Schools as A Bold Experiment? by Michelle Weinel

Day 4, NOLA
The statement of "New Orleans is emerging as a bold experiment in what a city school system can be" alludes to the idea that this "experimentation" is greatly benefiting the school system of New Orleans. Almost as if what has evolved from Katrina, education wise, has now become the pinnacle of "successful school transformation" and reform. True, from what we as a class have gathered from tours, panels and general discussions, the plan for rebuilding New Orleans education sounds like a smooth transition and flawless blueprint. But only on paper.

Like the article by the Boston Globe suggests, the system has indeed started from scratch. As for the imple- menting of "promising models of reform from around the country", that has also only happened successfully in theory. What we as a class have witnessed as the product of post Katrina education rebuilding is complicated. This "experiment" has so many groups and individuals pulling strings and attempting to achieve different outcomes. The communication between groups, stakeholders really, is little to none. So what one ends up with is a messy system, full of passionate principals working at schools with breathtaking facilities, to overcrowded elementary programs with a serious lack of assistant staff, and everything in between.

What I don't think the Boston Globe under- stands, and lets face it, many people in the country (myself before this class included) is yes, the New Orleans school system is starting from scratch. And yes, starting from scratch allows for new beginnings, new promising programs that on paper sound like a saving grace. But with so many stakeholders (teachers, teachers unions, parents, "communities", corporations, volunteer groups, STUDENTS) involved within this one education system (charter schools, public schools, private schools, etc) compounded with competitive attitudes, ("us against you") has turned NOLA schools into a complicated, hard to navigate system particularly for those who are supposed to be benefiting from it the most; New Orleans students & and parents.

Maybe many, many, many years down the line, what the Globe alludes to as "re- defining education" post Katrina will ring more true, at least to me, but after the week we have spent here and the people we have talked to, the system is a far cry from being the pinnacle of education reform, success.

Was Katrina Really The Best Thing for NOLA Schools? by Paige Chandler

Day 4, NOLA

"What has happened since the disaster, however, is redefining urban public education. Instead of simply rebuilding the old district, based on the old institutions, policy leaders in New Orleans and Baton Rouge decided to start from scratch, fashioning a public education system based on new ideas and promising models of reform from around the country. From the wreckage, New Orleans is emerging as a bold experiment in what a city school system can be."

As you can see in this excerpt from the article entitled "The Sc- hools that Katrina Built" there is a true belief that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing that has happened to the public education system in New Orleans. Even the title of the article makes that message clear, however there does not seem to be much input from the New Orleans community themselves on what they would like their education system to be like. And when I say community I mean parents, families, students, teachers, staff, and everyone else who has a stake in the education system in New Orleans.

It cannot simply be the "education leaders" and corpor- ations that are making all of the decisions about what the education system should look like in New Orleans. Also, having people not from New Orleans making all of the conclusions is very dangerous, you have these people who are not natives making all of the plans for the natives, people who did not go through the tragedy that Hurricane Katrina caused telling the people who did what is best. These "education leaders" need to be open to the opinions of the real community because otherwise this new experimental education system in New Orleans is going to look seriously close to subjugation.

A "Taking Over" of NOLA Public Schools, A Replica of Colonialism by Rosy Clark

Day 3, NOLA
Wednesday, St. Patricks Day, we saw a panel of teachers talk at the Green Charter School (a beautiful school that had an incredible garden outside and kitchen inside and is often referred to as the “Edible School Yard”). The teachers on the panel were a great range, and included three women who had been working in the New Orleans Public Schools for decades and had been fired after the hurricane, a teacher who had worked in the schools before and now taught physical education at the Green Charter, and a Teach For America teacher from New Jersey who was in her second year of the program.

Towards the end of what was a very powerful, infor- mative, passionate discussion of the school system, one of the “forced to retire” teachers stated that the school system is now a “replica of colonialism”. I immediately saw her point and her frustration in trying to work with a system that was basically calling the schools she had known, loved and given her dedicated work to a complete failure, something that needed to be replaced and taken over.

“Take over” is literally the language that people, from all sides of the situation, use to describe what the Recovery School District did, essentially when hurricane Katrina hit, but before as well. Since R.S.D. started in 2003, they were actually put in place to take over and rebuild the schools in New Orleans that the state of Louisiana saw as so drastically failing that they could no longer be city-run schools. With all the information we have seen, all the places we have been, all the articles we have read, I can see that many schools in New Orleans pre-Katrina were not performing as schools. They had some committed teachers, and there were good public schools, but there were also a huge number of people losing hope, inspiration and motivation, and failing to provide the necessary education for the children of the city. This is why the state decided to “take over” the schools. “Take over” is an inherently colonial word. The state took over the city schools, and said that they would not continue to do things the way they had been doing them for years, but would learn how to do them the way the state wanted.

When the teacher I mentioned above made her statement, she was aware of the harshness of her words. She went on to explain that what she meant was, the state of Louisiana came into the schools of New Orleans, where they did not have a previous relationship or prior experience, and said that they would take care of what the school, students, teachers and basically the community, “needed”. The illegitimacy of these supposed needs is where this teacher saw the replication of colonial tendencies.

Today, we saw several charter schools. The first was called ARISE Academy and is currently taking over a public school, which was referred to as Drew. These schools really made me think of the colonial model the entire time we were there. The women we met with at the school are from New Schools for New Orleans, a program that really did a lot to open new schools after the hurricane. They first talked to us for about an hour about the charter model they were working within and how it worked in a school building where two separate districts, two separate administrations, two separate schools, are operating at the same time.

The things that really stood out to me, and I think to many of my classmates, were the ways in which ARISE Academy seems to be actively ignoring who its students are, and the awkward situation they are navigating in the combined school building. They told us the stakeholders in their school were the superintendents, the principals, the state superintendent, and local business – people who need employees to be coming up through the schools in the city. This worried me, since they neglected to mention students, parents, or the community in their list. They also informed us that in their school students needed to leave their issues at home, their community, their family, behind, and be separate from that at school. This is absurd to me! To ask students to forget their identities, their histories, their lives, when they come into school, means asking them to remove themselves from the very organism that is this city. This is colonialism. What else did colonists do but to try to wipe out the backgrounds and original beliefs of native communities?

Education of the "Whole Child" by Sonny Farnsworth

Day 3, NOLA
Since arriving here, we've heard from a vast array of educators, admin- istrators, and other individuals with an investment in both public education as well as the well-being of the city of New Orleans itself. It has become very clear that this is a city divided - ideologically, pedagogically, geographically, and in countless other ways. I don't think there is a single representative, though, who hasn't claimed that their ideal public school is one that educates "the whole child." Frankly, I think that this is more of a catch phrase intended to comfort the listener and reassure the speaker of their own philanthropy and compassion. It's a nice idea, but we've seen that in practice it means something different to everyone who uses it. If in fact the goal of an educational institution is to educate "the whole child," what are the methods it is going to use to accomplish that? And what does a "wholly educated" child look like if it is successful?

We are constantly being reminded of the "failing" state of the schools in New Orleans, either past or current, depending on who you are consulting, as well as the disproportionately high percentage of "at risk" youth in public schools. What no one cares to acknowledge, however, is how racialized and class-specific these terms have become. The "salvation narrative" of education as a solution to all of society's ills is nowhere more apparent than in a city which has faced disaster, and where the system of education is in constant flux as a wide range of parties attempt to assert control and identify the system that will ultimately keep every child afloat. Those parties who have the capability of asserting this power, of course, are often those with the most resources to begin with - people who often have no direct ties with public education, and whose livelihoods are not affected in any tangible way by the day to day operations of public schools.

They are lawyers, accountants, business people, all of whom are sure they know the key to best serving the children and educators on the ground in this de-centralized "system of schools," as we have heard it called. From the outside looking in, they impose their understanding of the daily lives of those moving through the education system in New Orleans on to them, and take any semblance of agency away from those people who should have the most voice and power in the educative process. There is a de-emphasizing of community and sharing of knowledge and instead a focus on those who "know best" re-organizing the education system without the input of those who will ultimately be most directly affected by it.

I have seen a parallel between this motive of salvation through expert knowledge and the operations within the individual schools we have visited, where the methodology of those attempting to "save" failing students becomes unconsciously geared towards homogenizing a population of students. In a city where public schools serve a population of almost 100% students of color and where the overriding opinion of the public schools are that they are "failing," the term "at risk" inevitably becomes synonymous for those outside of the system with "black." These students are seen as needing to be "saved," and they often end up in schools where their culture is denied within the limits of the classroom walls. Uniforms, school creeds, and military-style discipline are administered and regulated by an administration and staff who claim to "sweat the small stuff" and "catch the little things," so that normal childhood behavior is skewed into problematic acting out. More importantly, the intelligence and ability of these students to speak for themselves is constantly denied and ignored. As the children in many public schools being referred to as "innovative" and "unique" are being funneled into a system where they are forced to deny their ability to act on their own behalf, the communities within the city of New Orleans who are served by the public education system are also being told on a macro level that the individuals removed from their learning environments and daily lives know better how to serve their needs.

Is the NOLA School System a Replica of Colonialism? by Julia Ramirez

Day 3, NOLA

During a teacher panel at Green Charter School a former teacher told us, “The school system in New Orleans is a replica of Colonialism”. From my point of view I feel she was trying to pinpoint the fact that charter schools are taking over the existing
education system in New Orleans, implementing a school structure whose views derive from the outsider not the insider. In other words, the people that are running charter schools do not know a thing about what is happening in the city, leading to a lack of knowledge as to what New Orleanian children really need in terms of education in order to succeed. Many charter schools in New Orleans are creating a school structure mainly focused on standardized tests which is not reflecting any difference from what the schools looked like before the storm.

I feel that charter schools are monopolizing public education in New Orleans. Most of the charter schools in the city are independent, teaching students in various ways; however there are a few schools that are run by the same entity creating various schools with the same curricula. This does not mean that there is any difference between these charter schools though. What I’m seeing as the result of most charter schools is, children going to college with different educational understanding and experiences, all deriving from the same city schools, and all failing the school system. At the end of the day most institutions mainly focus on increasing test scores and reaching a benchmark where their school is at the top based on those test scores. Ultimately, the focus on test scores is what is important not the well being and education of the students themselves.

How my learning about the politics of rebuilding education is influenced by my time in NOLA by Katie Albanese

Day 2, NOLA
We've read so many per- spectives, chewed through different repre- sentations and watched videos of the various stakeholders but somehow being down here really complicates what it means to rebuild the education system in New Orleans. My head is still spinning from all the different people we've spoken with and sites we've visited over the past two days. The actual experience of engaging in conversations, observing schools and navigating the city has added many new layers to my understanding of the ways in which people conceive of rebuilding.

I spent a few hours of my afternoon at the Lighthouse after school program - an enrichment program located at Thurgood Marshall Early College High School. After an hour of tutoring and art programming the students headed outside and played a game of volleyball. One students, however, was sitting in the corner of the yard playing pokemon on his gameboy.

I got the chance to sit and talk with Daren for a while, a tenth grader in the program. Juxtaposing his stories against the perspectives we've heard from teachers, program coordinators and administrators was interesting - adding yet another incredibly important voice to the picture, which is so often left out - student experience. We compared and contrasted New Orleans to New York, and he shared
with me his thoughts on his school and his program. The people at his school were weird, he said, and began to point out the quirks of all of his friends that were playing volleyball and described to me the personalities of the teachers at his school. It's a reminder of the immediate needs of Daren and his classmates, the actual lived reality of what it means to go to school in New Orleans. Yet, at the same time there are so many elements of this situation which are so obviously situated in larger national and global contexts - issues of privatization and choice, ecology and environment, representation and voice keep reappearing.

My understanding of the situation here has been complicated, my opinions are being shaken up, questioned and redefined - but most of all, this experience has grounded the theories and conversations we've had and will shape the many more to come.

How my learning about the politics of rebuilding education is influenced by my time in NOLA by Kristen Turner

Day 2 in NOLA

It goes without saying that physically being in this space and seeing the city first-hand allows for experiences you wouldn't otherwise have, or be able to understand. Day 1, I felt as though the whole group was able to get a taste of the kind of frustration the people of the city experience daily while we were on our bus tour of New Orleans. Many of the roads and bridges we attempted to take through and out of New Orleans were closed for various reasons, causing us to have to take alternative routes or just not venture to that area at all. For me this raises huge questions of accessibility to schools -- why should it be so difficult for the  
people of New Orleans to access different parts of THEIR city?

We have heard from quite a few different sources about the issue of busing students all over the city just to get to school. Some children have to endure a daily commute of 1-2 hours, meaning having to wake up extra early, get home extra late, and just the ride itself is enough to leave anyone feeling exhausted -- and certainly not in the mood to sit through 6 hours of school.

Another problem we have been hearing about is that children from the same household are forced to commute in separate directions, to separate schools. What happens if, one day, a student is on his or her lengthy commute to school, when all of a sudden a bridge or road route is closed? Taking an alternative route would add time to the already long journey, but what if there was no other alternative route to be taken? What if a child just cannot attend school that day because of one or two roads or bridges being shut down? This is frustrating for the student of course, but what kind of effect does this have on working parents whose children have to go to separate schools miles and miles apart, and one child can make it to school, but the other one can't? How does this effect a parents ability to be active in their children's learning?

Experiencing how these types of closings affected OUR travel through the city was inconvenient, and seeing how it really did shift whole parts of our tour made me realize that lack of accessibility of New Orleans itself through inadequate modes of transportation was just another factor in the struggle for quality education for the city's youth and parents.

Impressions of New Orleans by Sharna Brzycki

Day 1, NOLA

New Orleans was not what I expected it to be when we arrived and traveled to various schools and city landmarks on our bus. It's funny because I had been to New Orleans three years before this trip for a very short period of time but something about our visit already seems different than my time spent here before. Perhaps it is all the sterotypes of New Orleans and the South that had been floating through my mind before departing, things we read about in various articles and saw in movies we watched in preparation for our departure that would be challened once we got here. But, something feels more real and down to earth now that we're here that I hadn't experienced when I visited before, nor did I think I would experience this time around.

I immediately felt welcomed by everyone we met during our first day out, and still continue to feel this in our meetings with new faces at every educational site we have seen. On our "Sinking City Tour," showing us the social and environmental divides of New Orleans and the surrounding areas, our tour guide, Monique Verdin, told us that this is the special thing about New Orleans.

Monique said that she feels more welcome and at home in this city than any other place she has lived or visited. This trait, something I can already sense through our first day here, is something truely unique and special about New Orleans.

Impressions of New Orleans by Gizel Aponte

Day 1 in New Orleans

My knowledge and perceptions of New Orleans were based solely on academic readings, theory, text books. Before coming to the city, I considered New Orleans a bright wonderful city that was totally devastated after Hurricane Katrina. I considered New Orleans as a city that is in need of being “re-built.” New Orleans has a presence of colonial architecture with a long history of Spaniard and French colonization. Despite the fact that the colonizers are long since gone, the community still conserves its historical architecture as it reflects the 
city’s history. I  wonder what ways colonization still exists in NOLA.

I want to mention that one of the challenges that New Orleans face is the failure of its public schools. "Left Behind," a documentary on public schools in NOLA detailed the high rates of violence, drop out rates, lack of resources, corruption within the school system, lack of good and caring teachers, among many other problems. On our first day in NOLA we visited three after school programs and I thought how the problems detailed in the film existed in these programs...

There have been many organization in NOLA that are trying to help students perform better in school, after school programs particularly. However, in these programs the key focus is helping students to pass the standardize exam. Fortunately there is an after school umbrella program that is trying to help students to go beyond preparing for standardizes exams, “Afterschool for Greater New Orleans.” GNO wants to help students to understand the context of the learning material. They want students to start thinking critically because that’s a way for them to learn, not memorize, the context. I am hoping I can learn more and more about after schools programs that are actually making a difference in a child’s life!

Impressions of New Orleans...by andrea summers

new orleans is...

rich in history
deeply segregated
with a proud peoples
striving to overcome
to build
and rebuild
its beloved city

new orleans is...

a flat city
surrounding by water that is rarely seen
reshaped by many storms
not only one
with new migrations

new orleans is....

deep in its roots
full of mystery
for a reclaiming