John White

The First Bell series is a growing collection of stories from students, parents, and educators about pivotal experiences in education. To tell your story, email amy@wrkf.org with "My First Bell" in the subject line or tweet with the hashtag #MyFirstBell.

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When state Superintendent John White was playing sports in high school, he says the poverty of the kids who lived a mile or two away from him came into view.

"I think there was something always, in a way, powerful, about being in a low-income community’s home court. Because, when you come in with your nice uniforms and, you know, you practice everyday in a nice gym or on a nice field, and you play guys whose uniforms don’t quite look the way they should, or the gym’s in bad shape, and the field is also a soccer, also a baseball, also a something else field, you get a very material view of what inequity looks like."

White found the disparity was something he couldn’t turn his back on.

He now oversees the education of Louisiana’s roughly 700,000 public school students. But he started his career teaching English in a high-poverty high school in Jersey City, NJ.

He says he never considered a career in private education, even though he went to an elite all-boys school — St. Albans in Washington, D.C. — from elementary school all the way through 12th grade. And he loved it.


Federal funds dedicated to the turnaround of struggling Louisiana public schools have been repurposed.

The state Department of Education is using $5 million to issue grants to conceive new schools and allow high-performing schools to take on more students.

Almost 200,000 students are attending schools rated D or F. State Supt. John White said traditional public school systems that have been getting turnaround money are not drawing down that number.

“The pace of change has just not been fast enough for us not to consider a new path,” White said.  

Plans to create a statewide program that would give college tuition grants to Louisiana students who graduate early from high school have been scrapped.

The scholarship program was approved by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education last year in the state's education financing formula, with expectations it would begin in the 2013-14 school year.

Public school counselors say their education role would be radically diminished or even eliminated under a plan by state Superintendent of Education John White to give local districts more flexibility.

Under current rules, high schools are supposed to have one counselor for every 450 students.

White's proposal would eliminate that requirement.

The Advocate reports a committee of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will take up the issue on Tuesday.

An Oct. 15 date has been set for arguments in a lawsuit by teacher unions and local school boards challenging the constitutionality of Gov. Bobby Jindal's statewide voucher program.

Judge Tim Kelley chose the hearing date Tuesday in a meeting with lawyers for both sides in the case.

Attorneys for two statewide teacher unions and dozens of local school boards say the voucher program that will use tax dollars to send children to private schools and other new education funding plans are unconstitutional.

A nonpartisan government watchdog group is asking Superintendent of Education John White to seek legislative guidance as he designs the accountability standards required of schools participating in Louisiana's new voucher program.

The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana sent a letter Tuesday to White, urging him to present his draft accountability policies to the House and Senate education committees for the program that will use tax dollars to send students to private schools.

The state education department has received more than 10,000 applications for Louisiana's statewide voucher program set to start in August that will use taxpayer money to send students to private and parochial schools.

Superintendent of Education John White announced the applicant numbers Wednesday.

As many as 2,000 of the applicants are in an existing New Orleans voucher program. The others will be vying for slots available to new students under the statewide program pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.