Andre Perry Commentary
4:49 pm
Fri March 1, 2013

Looking Beyond Test Scores to Community

You have got to see this handsome, new public elementary school located in New Orleans. We could easily walk to this inclusive building as most children who live near the school do.

In this neighborhood, the question of will you send your child to a public school isn’t analogous to Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac. The neighborhood chooses to walk to school together.

If you arrive early enough, you will see veteran teachers walk inside a little bit more efficiently than their eager, twenty-something counterparts, but they walk in together. You have to see this school.

Students arrive to a nutritious and tasty breakfast. The chef uses many of the fresh fruits and vegetables grown from the school’s edible garden or those from local farms. The chef also prepares New Orleans-style beignets and coffee, and the aroma calls parents to purchase them from the student run coffee shop. You have to smell this school.

If parents don't immediately go to work, many grab a seat in the school's small amphitheater to politely gossip over java. However, on Friday mornings, some parents stay to see the first grade's weekly recital. Last week Ms. Thomas had her students perform Hey Pocky A-Way by the Meters. You have to hear this school.

This public school isn’t designed to build up poor children, and a picture of the parent association could not be lifted from a society page. Local history is honored, but its curriculum is built to not repeat the man-made disasters of the past. The school rests upon a rigorous liberal arts curriculum and teaching and learning is documented and assessed with tools based on student's performances on real tasks.

Many of its parents believe that students deserve to walk away from their liberal arts curriculum with concrete skills. So the neighborhood decided that if there are two things every graduate from the school must have the foundation to do: they are to build a better song and a stronger levee. As a result, teachers place a musical and an architectural instrument in the hands of every child. You have to see this school.

The school has an elected board, but that board doesn't run dozens of other schools in areas miles and miles away. The principal has the power to hire and fire their teachers, but site-based faculty-leader agreements provide students and teachers security. You have to vote for this school.

Attendance is a priority. Every student in the neighborhood is accounted for. Truancy is enforced by social workers. Students attend year round with short breaks for summer vacations, winter holidays and Carnival. No one is expelled. In this school, discipline does not translate into punishment. Your child has to attend this school.

When the final bell rings, every child has a home to return to. Aftercare comes in the forms of libraries, museums, afterschool initiatives, as well as sports and arts programs. Thereafter, students have enough time to do homework, bond with their families or play with their friends. Children close out the day with a good meal and good night’s rest. The children dream of the day to follow. If NOLA wants real growth, we should not look to test scores. We must work towards a vision of community.

Click here to see the full version of this vision.

Andre Perry, Ph.D. (Twitter: http://twitter.com/andreperrynola@andreperrynola) is Associate Director for Educational Initiatives for Loyola University New Orleans and author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City.

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