What if you had to start your school system over almost from scratch? What if most of the buildings were unusable, and most of the teachers had left or been fired? Is that a nightmare, or your dream come true?
In New Orleans, that was the reality after the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina. That set off a chain reaction that transformed the city's schools forever, first by a state takeover and then by the most extensive charter school system in the country.
The New Orleans education system has changed dramatically in the almost ten years since Hurricane Katrina. NPR's Michel Martin is in town for a live event looking at those changes. It's part of her Going There series, where she hosts conversations about local topics with national significance.
Martin recently spoke about the event with WWNO Education Reporter Mallory Falk. She started by explaining why she chose to focus on education in New Orleans.
New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, or NOCCA, has long been known as a leading arts education program. But the staff there began to notice a trend. Students came to NOCCA from schools all over the city and had dramatically different experiences.
"And there were a lot of sad moments at the end of somebody's senior year where they'd be given a scholarship based on their art, or get into a school based on their arts audition, and then not be able to accept it because they weren't admitted academically," says Dr. Kate Kokontis.
Last month Henderson Lewis Jr. took the helm as superintendent of the Orleans Parish School Board. Today he laid out his plan for his first six months β and his vision for the future.
Henderson Lewis Jr. has a clear vision: "To reunite the school district," he says.Β "Right now we have a fragmented school system. We have some schools that are part of the Orleans Parish School Board. We have other schools that are part of the Recovery School District."
Last month, Lagniappe Academies lost its charter due to allegations that it wasn't serving students with disabilities. The school will close this spring. Its leaders have stepped down β including the CEO and acting principal. Now a group of teachers and staff will take the helm.
About a dozen teachers and staff attended the school's board meeting last night and made a proposal: allow them to run Lagniappe. They laid out a detailed plan for closing out the year and closing down the school.
For the past year now, many Americans have been hearing and reading about the 68,000 unaccompanied minors who have crossed illegally into the U.S. Nearly all of these minors come from El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras, and since their arrival, immigration officials have released most of them to their parents or relatives who already live in this country.
A number of these children and teenagers are in deportation proceedings, but while they wait, they have been allowed to attend public schools. In Louisiana, schools have enrolled nearly 2,000 of them.
It's a Saturday morning, and school marching bands are playing for a crowd. But they're not in a Mardi Gras parade. They're in the Superdome, where 120 schools are set up at long tables, putting their best faces forward and trying to recruit families.
One gives on-the-spot instrument lessons, another is showing off it's step team.