The Other Side of the Mirror: A 10-Year Reflection on New Orleans Public Schools

our next speaker holds a master’s of education emphasizing in learning disabilities and a PhD in education administration both awarded by the University of New Orleans her primary research include developing transformational principles as moral leaders in New Orleans primary researchers in the public education system enrollments she’s taught elementary grades and special education classes and services of school psych curriculum coordinator before moving to administrative assignments in Orleans Parish schools for 22 years she’s principal of the aretha castle Haley elementary school a high priority high minority based school in Orleans Parish in 1993 she was elected sorry about that principal of elementary principals of the the president of the principal Association of New Orleans Public Schools also known as pronounce she incorporated during her tenure she was surnamed the Louisiana elementary school principal of the Year and recognizes the National distinguished principal in 1995 before retiring in November of 2005 her last position Hall was the area superintendent that was the immediate supervisor of the district’s lowest performing schools and signature high school areas of the organizer thirteen instructional support teams her work and experience includes development administrative plans for educational coming for an educational consultant company after the name of a plus professional educators and independent educational consultant company she also has coordinated a Wallace Foundation grant to train her to Train urban schools aspiring president and aspiring principals and conducted professional development workshops for educators her presentation today is entitled the other side of the mirror at Cheyney reflection of New Orleans Public Schools please help me in welcoming dr. Rosalyn Smith good morning good morning good morning to you good morning good morning good morning to you our day is beginning there’s so much to do good morning good morning good morning to you now obviously they don’t let me sing solos at church but that’s okay because I’m a teacher and today I hope to teach you some of the lessons that I’ve learned I’ve always been a teacher the question of the day that I’d like us to start with though is is black education in New Orleans better after Katrina and if yes in what ways if no why not I will tell a story that will take you listeners through the looking glass to the other side of the mirror of our public schools in this great city in an effort to share my personal experience and perspective the story will begin with my own background I want you to see things through the lens that I look through and then in the indus largely what was largely and still there is a segregated city in New Orleans some of my experience as a teacher and principal in the public schools for three decades and my current work as a charter school principal in the changing landscape of our city schools I will discuss pre and post Katrina parallels the positive aspects the negative outcomes and both systems unrealized potentials and I’m gonna start with school choice back in 1957 I was a four year old Negro girl getting ready to start school and in my neighborhood there were four schools within walking distance I was in the desired community and there was Moulton school Edward school done school st. Philip’s school all within a four-block areas of our house my parents rejected the three beautiful brick buildings that housed the public schools in our neighborhood and instead sent me to st. Philip the Apostle school a Catholic institution run by the priest who presided over our parish church I wasn’t in a modern brick build and it was actually in a cobbled campus using old army barracks but

that’s what school choice looked like back in 1950s and even now as then there were those parents including my own who assumed that the worst Catholic school was still superior to the best public school there were no tests to prove that we have no comparison models on that to date but it is the strong belief of many later I chose Xavier University preparatory high school for myself following a trend a family tradition for my mother and grandmother and although st. Mary’s was right down the highway and much much closer that was not a choice either no offense to our esteemed guests in the front it meant though for me to get from the desired community where I lived – up to Xavier Prep that I left home at 6 between 6:00 and 6:30 every morning to travel by public service bus from one end of the city to the other on most mornings it was still dark when I caught the first of three buses that carried me through the 9th 8th 7th Ward to Canal Street pass the CBD into the lower Garden District and finally uptown near the rivers been in time for the 8 o’clock p.m. school bell but my first job as a teacher brought me right back to the neighborhood at Helen Sylvania Edwards elementary school on the Carver campus again that was my school choice now I want to talk a little bit about the New Orleans schools what I call yours mine and ours after seven years of teaching elementary grades and special education at Edwards school I was appointed principal of Charles Etienne Gary elementary school and in its 85-year history I was the first african-american principal in 1995 we shed the name of this former slave holder and renamed our school a ref a castle Haley for a prominent local civil rights leader and educator and most of the professional life that my the that was in my introduction happened at that school where I spent over twenty-two years as the principal you must understand that first when you spend that much time in one place you get to know the generations of a community so I met grandmother’s parents children and now in my new role I’m meeting the children of my students in the new school it’s amazing they still found me later on I was promoted and I call it a promotion because I got more money not because it was a better job to the area office and that was real work being a principal was like going home and working with your kids I had kids at home being in the central office as an area superintendent was work after Katrina I joined the Treme Charter School Association we helped write a successful charter school application and became president of that board so that’s my background and I want to give you what I call a 10-year reflection it’s five years before Katrina and roughly five years after because we were a system of neighborhood schools in 1999 most parents chose their children’s schools based upon assigned district boundaries administrative permits to attend schools outside of one’s neighborhood were a rare possibility and it was left largely unrequested and most schools only special education children rode the little yellow buses at Haley school where I worked we accept anyone from the neighbor who could who could walk run or crawl through the door we didn’t have a lot of kids bust in and we had very few kids who transferred in but we had also very few kids who transferred out and it did allow us to create a very stable environment there were a few schools like Jean Gordon and lusher Elementary that began to experience great popularity in the 1990s and I want to say here my husband and I chose very carefully because he had started as a teacher in the district I was also and we knew something about the schools and what they had to offer Jean Gordon school was a small safe school located in a peaceful neighborhood the principal was popular and a friend they had a before and after school program which were perfect for me as principal because many afternoon I was left babysitting kids whose parents were either late getting off work are not too worried about picking up their kids because they knew they had me as their free babysitter I requested an administrative permit to send my child there and as the area superintendent said ok you have a good reason for

needing a before school care after school care program and my children will tell you I took well advantage of the after school program they were frequently the last children to get picked up but it gave them time to get really close to the teachers although I worked in the system I wasn’t really aware of the frantic efforts that parents were making even then to get good schools for their children until one day I was dropping my son off at Jean Gordon school and I noticed that there were hundreds of people circling the block hundreds of people sitting in chairs going back and forth between their cars and campers and I thought what in the world is going on here today so I asked the principal and he said oh we call this the campout is anybody here familiar with the campout days here they stopped that a good right after that and it was people who were trying to get their kids enrolled in this particular school I asked the principal how many people are in this line he said we gave out three hundred numbers this morning we had three hundred people lined up to get their kids read for this one particular school and I asked him well how many vacant positions do you have for a new students he said well a lot of our kids are coming back then we have the sibling policy that allows their younger brothers and sisters to come in automatically and then we have the children of our teachers who we allowed to have preference that left about 30 spots so you’ve got 1 out of 10 chances to get your child into that school but people were desperate and determined so many of them had no idea that their efforts were fruitless and I’m gonna ask you to hold that right there in your brain because you’re gonna find that some things have not changed and in some cases the more they change the more they remain the same in 1997 when Bill Clinton was president and Marc Morial was the mayor here we started seeing the advent of the Louisiana accountability plan and with that advent of that program the school started participating in very stringent testing now the of course the school performance scores that we received were going to be published in The Times Picayune principals were on pins and needles waiting to see where their schools would be ranked and it was something very prominent in the district the high ranking schools those principals were held great power they experienced fawning parents and political pressure and even administrative intrusions in an effort to enroll privileged students in those schools and with that advent of the school performance score and the accountability plan I believe that the school landscape in Louisiana had profound changes very similar to those that came with integration of the schools in the 60s people started paying attention to schools in a whole new way and he decisions about where their children would attend regular kindergarten as dr Barbara Ann said much much earlier in life for some schools it’s not uncommon for parents to purchase homes in the neighborhood because there were schools of choice there and so when people came to the city located from other places especially people who were knowledgeable and looking for something special they were steered toward certain neighborhoods where the quote good schools were I have friends who bought homes in the areas around lusher and around Hines to assure themselves a spot when their children became of school age but in all honesty that type of parental choice was limited to those who had power money or positions of influence most parents had very limited choice in the schools that their children would attend usually poor neighborhoods had the poorest schools the fewest teachers with experience and certification and parents who for various reasons were not involved in school activities even before the institution of leap and GE and the high stakes testing when the school rankings were published those schools that had high test scores were sought after by parents who wanted a solid public school education for their children it that it did not mean that the schools with the poor rankings were left empty however most of the city’s children were obligated to attend failing schools even teachers sought out the favorite schools a frequent experience I had as a beginning principal was to have teachers who would

start with me and they were non-tenured on probation and they might work for two or three years until they passed that point and then they would transfer to a better school a school that was considered easier a school that attracted more middle-class families than the low socio-economic group that we had so for principals of the choice schools that meant they didn’t have to train new teachers they didn’t have to accept uncertified teachers and they didn’t have vacancies at the beginning of the school year for the rest of us we might receive a third new teachers every year and start that training program all over again it became increasingly difficult to increase student achievement when the best teachers rushed to jobs that they considered easier I don’t blame them I understood them it didn’t make it any easier for accountability in Louisiana through the years we’ve had different types of standardized tests that any of my esteemed colleagues can tell you all about and they can give you the stats on how good the test was how relevant it was etc but the point was these tests which in our opinion created just a snapshot of what schools and children could do could create either a strong reputation for the school and everyone who worked there or a weak reputation and so we found things like great configurations such as 4.5 and 8.5 which were introduced as alternatives for students who could not pass the high-stakes test and then later they were denounced because the long term effect was that students who were put in those classes didn’t continue to make progress and now I understand that they’re being reintroduced the more things change the more they remain the same there are also other options that had come up we had pre GED for eighth graders who failed two or three times they had another option and now we even have a newly legislated career diploma some people say that it’s just as strong my child would not get one even our students received labels students were labeled as advanced mastery basic approaching basic or yes unsatisfactory and you can go into many schools today and find lists of students whose names are under the title of unsatisfactory I don’t have to ask Michael Cunningham how that makes them feel or how their parents feel when they see that those schools assessment scores plus things like dropout rates for up to the starting at seventh-grade and the number of kids who graduate on time etc create school performance scores and this assessment that each school has is supposed to be a mark of progress from year to year the goal of every school was to have a score of a hundred and twenty by twenty fourteen a simple measure of accountability determined to determine how much closer we are to the goal then and now so let’s talk about then and now ten years ago in 2000 there were 78041 students in the 128 schools governed by the Orleans Parish School Board according to the State Department of Education 78,000 plus 128 schools ten years later in 2000 2010 there are two charter schools opened in New Orleans that are governed directly by Betsy their type two charters sixteen schools governed by the Orleans Parish School Board for directly run and twelve charters there are 56 public schools governed by the recovery school district I’m sorry that’s the wrong number thirty-seven direct run schools and 33 charter schools because I need to add in the newest ones and according to the State Department of Education we now have thirty eight thousand fifty-one students in eighty eight schools and the at-risk population is a little over 82 percent now I’m gonna ask you to make a mental scorecard and if you need to write it down it’s okay and you need to keep your scorecard handy for the rest of today if you’re going to be here because we need to talk about operations administration school facilities school finances school choice transportation human capital student achievement and governance and for those of you who need a cheat sheet make sure you pick up one of those cowan reports that are out there on the table because the stats are there for you to read and you can study them yourself and if they’ve done an excellent job in the report

morning of the statistics on this but I just want to tell you the story the way I see it following Hurricane Katrina we had new legislation act 35 which changed the definition of failing schools in districts that were deemed in academic crisis now at that time there was only one district in the entire state of Louisiana that was deemed in academic crisis we had a fiscal crisis but 50 percent or more of the students were attending failing schools now prior to the passage of this new what I call takeover legislation the State Department published a record of all of the school’s scores this was in October of 2005 and in the New Orleans Public Schools there were 68 schools that were under 60 which was the cut-off score 68 schools that the state could legitimately just take over with no new legislation that was the option but that left about 40 other schools that had a score above 60 ex35 changed that and so now the definition of a failing school wasn’t a score of below 60 but a score below the state average and that included schools that had scores in some cases about 15 schools that would have been eligible for monetary awards as recognized or exemplary growth but they were scooped into that number also it allowed our state to take over any school in Orleans Parish with a score that was lower than the state’s performance score of 87 that in school included schools like Jean Gordon which had a baseline score of eighty five point six Martin Luther King with a baseline score of eighty one point eight and Parkview with a baseline score of eighty five point seven they were under 87 now those were published reports in October of 2005 but with his new legislation that came in member one month later schools with an SPS of 60 or 70 or even 80 were considered academically unacceptable overnight so however in New Orleans where a score of 85 you received a label as a failing school not so in other parts of the state these schools then became a part of the recovery school district and governors shifted from the elected officials to the selected officials who ran the recovery school district Orleans Parish retains 17 schools five of them were direct run schools and one has closed since then 12 became charter schools they were left with only 14 percent of the original district a major factor that created two districts then was the flood damage and the devastation of about 85 buildings it was a Herculean task to rebuild what some thought was already the worst school district in the country and that it was no great loss even Arne Duncan US Secretary of Education was recently quoted and then apologized for statement saying that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing that happened to the school district he clarified that statement but it’s one that was felt by many and not surprisingly the recovery school district has already been declared an improvement even though some of the numbers may say something differently I recently attended a conference I was there in San Antonio just yesterday and everywhere I went people would say see my name peg and say New Orleans how is it did they really shoot those people on the Danziger bridge where people really left floating and drowning in the water do you still have water in your house I mean ridiculous questions in some cases but people want to know the real story and they’re reading what’s in the media trying to make decisions just as we are here because many of you read what’s in the media but if you’re not in the schools it’s hard to make an informed decision you need to be in the schools to determine whether it’s better or worse currently though and these things statistics are in the book also the rsd has director on high schools but none of them has an SPS score that is above 40 all of the schools under the high schools have failing scores even now and those are the high schools in the 2008-2009 baseline performance scores it was suggested even that somebody rescued these schools from the recovery district because the progress is not there let’s

assume that we now have an act 40 to accompany the act 35 and instead of this recovery district let’s create a rescue school district but it’ll only apply to schools in New Orleans in fiscal crisis with schools with an SPS under 16 well if we did that and took that mythical line put it in place today only four of the rsd direct run schools to Roch and chili Terrace which is now part of un o Schaumburg and Phantasy Williams would remain in the district the other schools would be taken from the rsd and the rsd would be left with about 14% of their direct run schools the charter schools are like childbirth they came with a lot of blood sweat and tears but like the child you never know when you give birth and it’s going to be a saint or some kind of monster and that’s where we are today with the birth of our charter schools the damaged buildings scattered employees the lost jobs gave way to a new era and it was painful we no longer have a school system but a system of schools we no longer have just the haves and the have-nots as my friend darryl cuban says we have to have sums we now have schools of choice but that comes with an astronomical transportation cause students who like me boy buses each morning to get to school at dawn when there’s barely daylight and disembark to similar darkness at dusk when they return home the concept of a neighborhood school as the hub of a community is a thing of the past with very few exceptions our parents now have choice but do they have voice in my opinion they rarely do the same loud voices are heard as they were pre-katrina the silent voices of many of the masses are still left unheard a frequent claim is that parents can have choice because the schools are open access now and theoretically a child can accept a select any school anywhere in the city if it’s a charter school in a 10 but families who are low income while we know they can choose schools in wealthier neighborhoods sometimes don’t have the access in spite of the fact that these schools publish their highlights on websites and big banners all over and and even billboards you think that all parents have to do is navigate the waters to enroll their children in the school of choice let me just say this that it is a very difficult thing and even schools that believe the premise find it difficult to manage today at the school where I am the president of the board McDonough 42 we have about 532 kids 300 of those children ride the bus to school every day and this year the cost in spite of all our oversight is going to be well over three hundred thousand dollars that’s enough to pay for five mid-career teachers 10 paraprofessionals or we could beautifully landscape the garden playground and picnic facilities for use of our neighbors in the esplanade Ridge and the seventh Ward communities instead I will be paying it to the transportation company now there is a price that goes with this choice and I just want to make that clear it also means that the neighborhood school concept which many of us grew up with may not ever reappear like the Catholic schools that I talked about in the 1960s charter schools are perceived as better than direct run public schools already schools have been able to stabilize their communities and experience some success because there’s little turnover but students who don’t follow the rules who they always have the threat of expulsion now with being sent to a recovery school district direct run school and so now they have been deemed whether we say it publicly or not as the schools of last choice and let’s be clear 33 of the schools that we are talking about would be pushed into that category whether they deserve that name or not it is what it is the charter school students are their families feel very privileged to be there in fact some of the charter schools actually have to hold lotteries to get seats for their students who want to attend of the Orleans Parish Public Schools most of them have selective admission one or two

do not but they are the first schools to fill up they have the most stable populations there the same schools of choice post-katrina that they were pre Katrina this is not because they become charter they were already in schools where parents lined up to send their kids and children took tests to enter and there was a highly competitive program going on the rsd schools by turn take any student who applies until the records that requisite number of students have filled up the spots and I want to tell you some quick secrets about the charter schools because people want to say that the schools cherry-pick kids they take the best ones and leave the rest for the direct run schools we don’t take special ed kids we don’t do this let me just give you some of the secrets though there are really legitimate ways that you can keep people out if you don’t want them in your charter school and nobody can stop you one way is to conduct registration online there are certain people who will never be able to access registration if you start with online registrations and they need computer access and knowledge to do that and you give away most of your spots and then you announce that you have places for others you can hold mandatory Parent Orientation meetings at hours that are traditionally work hours for people who you don’t want to be there now the CEO of the company the university person they might be able to get off and make it but the people who are making up the beds and doing that kind of work they can’t get off work to come to meetings during the day you can require a student portfolio supposedly to consider academic placement but also to give you an idea of what kind of grades and scores that choose a student is bringing you can create sibling policies again that fill up lots of spaces and leave very little space for newcomers you can have neighborhood boundaries we have some schools that are popping up now which have in their charter that when their new building is built preference will go to those who live in that neighborhood you can have early registration we have schools in the city that finished their registration in December now some people might not think that’s early but I have a daughter who’s trying to go to law school and she’s still receiving acceptance letters she’s not registered for September’s law school class yet and we’re in March but we have elementary schools in our city that closed their registration in December for the coming year you can discourage children from enrolling special needs kids by saying oh we don’t really have that program maybe you want to go somewhere else that’s the parents choice you can steer unwanted students to other schools just tell them you know we don’t really have that program but you know where you can go to get that and send them over to another school and parents don’t know any better they don’t know that by law you’re required to have the program when their children come you can require test scores as a part of the registration documents even though you’re not supposed to people will ask to see them and you have gatekeepers that tell you quickly one school that I really like but this is the policy you come to the school to register the kids the front desk people are told to say we have no vacancies it’s kind of like your insurance when you go to make a claim and they say you know this doesn’t qualify you have to protest to get what you deserve and so some of the people will say they’re none and then they said wait let me let talk to the principal give me your information and the principal looks at it it’s a roll straight else with go and the parents generally will just simply take that and walk away they have a hard time complaining about this because there is no local RSD school board again they didn’t elect the people who are leading it and they did not select them so when we opened our charter school I do remember the very first day that the children showed up we had about 500 kids all of them in uniform with backpacks lined up and ready to start and we were very excited but that year the RSC’s first day of school was September 4th they pushed it back after Labor Day to give people some time to come and get enrolled etc but there were 300 people standing in the Sun outside of Poland Avenue where the school board office was and they were standing in that Sun trying to figure out where their children would attend school the parents of those children were different than the parents of the children sitting in our school who had figured out how to register your kids in June and July and get them what they need and move to a choice the 300 parents who were in that

line did not have a choice they were going to take whatever was available to them so I want to say here one last thing about the growth and that is that the charter schools at the district has they’re still growing you have statistics that will tell you that in New Orleans the schools are so much better than they were pre Katrina because you have higher school performance scores but we do have fewer schools and we do now close schools that are failing I was looking at the number on the State Department website and the numbers in the new Cowan report and I couldn’t figure out why one report was showing a certain number of art SD schools and another one was different and it was simply because they closed for failing schools last year we don’t have to count them if the schools are closed or you can get a charter and when you get a charter you start all over it’s a clean slate so the failing school is no longer a failing school it’s a new school but you have some of the same children who are attending and we changed the teachers we change the principal but how much are we really changing as far as the education that our children are going to receive we have some lost potential pre-katrina for whatever reason our state school board did not decide to intervene with what we all knew were failing schools there was no influx of money no four hundred million dollars to fix the buildings as a matter of fact we had reports that said we needed a half billion dollars to repair all of the schools but there was no money at that time to do so and we had some charter schools even pre-katrina people aren’t aware of that that it was something that the board embraced to start we had a revolving door of superintendents we had FBI agents camped out in the central office and millions of dollars in federal funds ineligible for reimbursement due to mistakes one of the most telling things about the state legislature was the draft of that new law that and another one that allowed a non educator to lead this school district in Orleans as far back as 1999 where the superintendent didn’t need to have taught one single day to run the district but he did have a good stand in who had to have all of the credentials that was allowed here until finally we hit rec rock bottom and the state the school board had to admit we need some help so outside help was brought in and now post-katrina the rsd has in nineteen and 2005 had a hundred schools in its jurisdiction although many of those have reopened the buildings today remain shuttered deteriorating eyesores in some neighborhoods across the city they’ve been looted they’ve been burned they’ve been ransacked for four years equipment and materials still in shrink-wrap and library books untouched by contaminants were thrown away after-school clubs and activities are almost non-existent in many of the schools because students must take a school bus home after an already extended school day neighborhood schools may return to schools like Hines when they get their new building but most students will never have that experience unless something changes and finally I believe that together we can this is a debate that is raging about governance of our schools I’m caught right in the middle as someone who saw the best and the worst of a district lost potential pre-katrina but now in our charter school I see some similar things that frighten me if we don’t change because what has happened is we are now like survivors of an Armageddon we’re starting to shift in empty who else is left standing and people are coming together to create a new centralized system even though we’re supposed to now applaud the decentralized system when students are expelled from individual charter schools they had no place to go so the alternative schools which were required by the state were set up by the rsd so now we have centralized alternative schools again which we had pre-katrina a similar situation may be evolving with the special education dilemma because federal mandates require you to serve children regardless of their exceptionality we know that some of the schools don’t have the facilities the trained personnel or even the wherewithal to begin serving them we have children whose desperate parents are moving them to certain areas to certain groups where they know they can receive the services that they need and the high cost of those

program the lack of certified teachers limitations on space and the unmodified buildings which in many cases are still very old make us have a unique challenge for the charter schools which hopefully is going to be addressed very soon because the children who have special needs are still at the back of the line that idea of open access in these cases one solution would be like we did with alternative schools to consolidate the distribution of services for children with exceptionalities many of these children are served in the New Orleans Public Schools and they still service non-cat non-public schools with additional help we can’t get them to sell services because they don’t have enough for their own but we have other groups like the Sun Center which is a group that has come together to provide evaluations and services for special ed children we have an achievement network which is a collaboration of 10 schools that have decided to use periodic assessments to find out how good their kids are doing and to compare them to schools in that collaborative we have the East Bank collaborative of charter schools which is a group of eight Orleans Parish charter schools and one Bessy charter school they come together and share resources and information and develop a common voice it’s a system within a system and so it’s very clear that these educators many of them who were here pre Katrina are starting to pull themselves together the charter school experiment has been rejected by surrounding parishes we have parishes like st. Tammany that say we don’t need that we have parishes that are even experienced in failing schools that have done reconstitution and other things rather than just jump onto the charter bandwagon we have some powerful people here in our city who are determined that Orleans Parish School Board elected officials who are just like you and just like me will not govern our local schools but yet anywhere else in this state people get to elect the people who run their local schools ironically the experiment continues while our school leaders formally and informally are starting to collaborate on finances and operations coming together to serve the unique needs of our students and if that is not a strong basis for a unified school system I don’t know what he is in closing I’d like to say that I’m not against charter schools at all I believe charter schools magnet schools alternative schools specialized high schools career oriented job oriented can all work for our children and create true choice but I also believe that in order to manage something like that a truly first-class school experience for all children you have to have one governance one way that everybody reports and everybody’s measured and if we continue with what we call a system of schools instead of building a strong school system we will continue to be an experiment thank you