My wife, Anne, and I lived in New Orleans for 12 years before coming back to her native Harpers Ferry in 1998. She taught there and for a number of years was the Building Representative to the union (AFT). I was for a number of years a member of the Business Task Force Advisory Committee to the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB). We have followed the trials and successes of that school system.
The following draws heavily on an article in the New Orleans Advocate on December 20, 2018, which stated that OPSB was turning its last traditional public high school over to a high performing charter operator. McDonogh 35 Senior HS opened in 1917 as Louisiana’s first public high school for black students. The school was last named a “School of Academic Achievement” in 2001, and it had dropped to a “D” grade by 2017. This means that now every public school in New Orleans will be a public charter school.
The article quotes the Superintendent as saying, “The charter system is key to accountability, as it allows schools to expand or open new campuses if they are meeting state-enforced standards, and to be shut down if they are failing.” He also says that his goal is “to bring McDonogh 35 back into its premier position as an academically successful, first-tier high school.” It also quotes the President of the OPSB as saying, “This decision will restore and uplift the academic legacy of this much beloved school while maintaining its cultural importance.“
It is puzzling to us that there could be such great acceptance of public charter schools in New Orleans and such total opposition from the unions and the school boards, including the State School Board, in West Virginia, where our public schools rank near the bottom in achievement. The article states that 73 percent of New Orleans students graduated in 2017, up from 54 percent in 2014 when the Louisiana Recovery School District turned over its remaining New Orleans schools to OPSB. Also, it states that 11 percent of New Orleans students attended schools rated as lowest-performing in 2017 versus 62 percent in 2005. New Orleans was also among the top 10 districts nationwide for academic growth in a 2017 Stanford University study.
It seems to us that Senate Bill 451 is a valiant effort to bring valuable improvements to West Virginia parents, students, school boards and school personnel. It might be a good idea for opponents of SB 451 to talk to the New Orleans School Board and their Superintendent.