The “Reform” of NOLA Public Schools: Headline Edition 1/3/06 to 3/22/06

See Part I.

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La. won’t run N.O. schools by itself: BESE to start taking nonprofits’ proposals. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 1/3/06. NewsBank. Web.

Later this month the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will begin accepting proposals from nonprofit organizations, including universities, interested in running any of the schools the Legislature in November voted to place under state control because they were performing below the state average.

Any organization that wants to run a school “must either have experience running schools or be a university,” Jarvis said.

That does not appear to bode well for a group of parents and school staff who won approval from the Orleans Parish School Board to make A.P. Tureaud, Joseph A. Craig and Albert Wicker elementary schools into charter schools after Katrina. All of those schools are in the recovery district.

“A group of parents who’ve never run a school would have a very hard time getting a charter,” said BESE member Leslie Jacobs, unless they pair up with an organization that has.

Each of the organizations running schools will answer to BESE, which will take on many of the functions the School Board had before the takeover.

When schools do open in the recovery district, Picard said, none will have admissions requirements and all will be open to students from across the city.

The state also will decide which schools reopen and where.

“That will allow us the flexibility to put schools where we see population returning,” Jarvis said.

Jacobs said each school will need at least 250 students to justify reopening.

Education efforts earn top magazine ranking: State schools, quality of teachers improve. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 1/5/06. NewsBank. Web.

Louisiana’s efforts to improve schools and teacher quality continue to win high marks from Education Week, an industry trade publication that ranked the state first in the nation for both.

The magazine’s annual “Quality Counts” survey showed the state ascending from the No. 2 position last year to the top spot in the nation in 2005 for its standards and accountability program, designed to ratchet up student performance. The magazine noted Louisiana’s use of school report cards, sanctions for low-performing schools and tests like the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program test, which fourth- and eighth-graders must pass to advance to the next grade.

Louisiana also ranked first for the second year in a row for its efforts to improve teacher quality. Among those are state-mandated tests for new teachers and incentives for educators who earn national training certificates.

In two other categories, Louisiana posted lesser scores, particularly in school climate, which measure school safety, parent involvement and class size, among other things. In that arena, Louisiana received a lower-than-average score of 71 out of 100 this year.

Louisiana earned an above average, but not stellar grade of 83 for its attempts to eliminate any disparity in per-student funding.

McDonogh 35 drops charter plan: Principal still hoping to open high school. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 1/6/06. NewsBank. Web.

Acting district Superintendent Ora Watson said she originally approached White in early November about reopening the school, but he insisted the district would have to stay true to the school’s tradition as a magnet school.

Watson said she instead chose to open Eleanor McMain as the district’s sole secondary school after Hurricane Katrina, since any schools the district opened in the storm’s aftermath have to offer open enrollment.

Watson said Thursday that there is “no way” McDonogh No. 35 could have survived with the financial plan included in the school’s charter application.

La. gets $100 million to restart schools: But aid is not for rebuilding or repairs. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 1/6/06. NewsBank. Web

The “Restart Assistance” financing can be used to replace books and computers, recover student and personnel data systems, rent mobile education facilities and redevelop educational instructional plans. Louisiana’s two senators, Democrat Mary Landrieu and Republican David Vitter, suggested that some of the money be used to help set up “innovative” new charter schools in New Orleans.

School Board at odds on next leader: District turned down for disaster loan. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 1/6/06. NewsBank. Web.

Also Thursday, the district’s financial consultants offered further grim news, announcing that the federal government has rejected the district’s request for a $126 million community disaster loan. If the district cannot successfully appeal that decision, it is scheduled to close out the fiscal year in June with a $77 million deficit.

Orleans board to reopen high school: McDonogh 35 plan feasible, official says. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 1/7/06. NewsBank. Web.

The McDonogh No. 35 decision comes just a month after the School Board refused to open the magnet high school in Esplanade Ridge after Bill Roberti, the district’s chief restructuring officer installed by Alvarez & Marsal, advised the board that it would be fiscally irresponsible.

Roberti changed his tune Friday, however, assuring board members the district could find the cash to run the school.

In a phone interview, Roberti said high schools on the city’s east bank were filling up, and if the district hadn’t opened McDonogh No. 35, the state would have had to step in and open a recovery district school.

Since the takeover in November, the state has opened none of the 102 campuses it inherited. The School Board has opened two schools.

Asked if McDonogh No. 35’s opening would push the district deeper into debt, as he previously predicted, Roberti said: “I don’t believe so,” but added: “We’re going to have to make some sacrifices,” such as leaving some bills temporarily unpaid.

Added hurdles toughen resolve: La. school chief faces N.O. crisis, disease. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 1/9/06. NewsBank. Web.

Right after the storm, however, Picard dropped the conciliatory approach and pushed a more drastic agenda: the forced state takeover of 102 of the 117 campuses the Orleans system operated before the storm, many of which may never reopen. He did so, he said, after watching the School Board return to bitter infighting over who would run the decimated system after the hurricane: Alvarez & Marsal or Orleans Superintendent Ora Watson. Picard now needed only the state Legislature to sign off on the unprecedented plan, and he sensed, correctly, that he’d have little trouble getting the votes.

School Board insures its own workers: Orleans also votes to reopen 2 campuses. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 1/13/06. NewsBank. Web.

The Orleans Parish School Board on Thursday voted to finance its own health insurance plan — with much higher premiums for many system retirees — after being dropped by its insurance company, Coventry of Louisiana.

In a separate vote, the board agreed to open two more schools: a new middle school at the Uptown site of Edgar P. Harney Elementary, and Bethune Elementary at the site of Arthur Ashe school, also Uptown. But those reopenings, which require state approval, probably will get shot down by state education officials who now control the campuses in question, according to a member of the state board of education.

Nagin’s schools panel issues reforms: Networks would cut role of central office. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 1/18/06. NewsBank. Web.

The committee’s final plan calls for public schools to be organized into “networks” of either charter or district-run schools, giving parents more choice and offering schools more control over their budgets and staff. It also suggests more equitable financing for all schools and a less meddlesome central office that supports, rather than dictates to, schools.

LEAP policy headed for vote: Rule gives students post-Katrina leeway. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 1/18/06. NewsBank. Web.

In September the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education decided that fourth- and eighth-graders would not have to pass the high-stakes exam for promotion, citing the various hardships children have faced because of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

However, the board left the final say to local school officials on whether to follow that change, and several districts statewide have chosen to maintain the pre-Katrina standards or lighten them, said Meg Casper, a state Education Department spokeswoman.

SCHOOL RULES: Four months after Katrina, local high school students show their school spirit — and their relief to be back where they belong. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 1/18/06. NewsBank. Web.

Students see opportunity in rebuilding: Secretary of education applauds enthusiasm. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 1/19/06. NewsBank. Web.

Public schools are near capacity: State defers decision on opening new campuses at Ashe, Harney. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 1/20/06. NewsBank. Web.

Public school space for New Orleans students in kindergarten through eighth grade is exceptionally tight, with only 145 spots immediately available, according to a survey of the city’s public elementary schools Thursday.

Space for students in higher grades, however, is abundant, with more than 500 spots available on the city’s east and west banks. Most of those slots are at McDonogh No. 35, which reopened Tuesday.

Orleans schools try for FEMA loan again: Bad audits are seen as factor in rejection. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 1/20/06. NewsBank. Web.

Education experts to interact with public: Central City meeting will be held today. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 1/21/06. NewsBank. Web.

The “Making It Happen Festival” will serve as a think tank for educators and government officials pondering how to rebuild a New Orleans school system torn apart by Hurricane Katrina. More than 15 education organizations with time-tested ideas for teaching in an urban setting — in most cases offering a clear departure from traditional schools — will be represented during roundtable discussions to be held 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 to 4 p.m. at Barrister’s Gallery, 1724 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.

Architect Steven Bingler, who helped put the festival together, described the event as a “high-level trade show” that allows local people to interact with people who have nurtured successful programs for years, often drawing national attention. “These are people who have actually developed programs that work,” he said.

A few of the highlighted programs are from New Orleans and may be familiar to fest-goers: the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts; Teaching Responsible Earth Education; and the New Orleans Center for Science and Math.

But most of the participating groups have been invited from other cities. They include the Center for Cities and Schools in Berkeley, Calif.; the Alternative High School Initiative in Providence, R.I.; the KnowledgeWorks Foundation in Cincinnati; the Crossroads Expeditionary Learning School in Baltimore; the Henry Ford Learning Institute in Dearborn, Mich.; and the Garrison, N.Y.-based Expeditionary Learning Schools.

Skeleton crew left to gut N.O. system: Once-bloated school staff dwindles to 61. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 1/21/06. NewsBank. Web.

Court delays Orleans school firings: Orleans school firings delayed: District attorney says insurance may lapse. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 2/1/06. NewsBank. Web.

An Orleans Parish judge Tuesday ordered Orleans public schools to wait at least a week before firing some 7,500 employees, an action district officials say could spawn a health insurance crisis for those workers.

In a ruling issued late Tuesday afternoon, Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese said school workers may not have received the proper 60 days notice and indicated he would issue a temporary restraining order, said Bill Aaron, an attorney for the district.

The firings were to coincide with a move by Coventry Health Care of Louisiana to drop their benefits today. Those employees must be terminated before they are eligible to sign up for the federal COBRA health plan, Aaron said.

Aaron said Act 193, the law passed in 2004 that gives the superintendent broad new powers, allows interim schools chief Ora Watson freedom to hire and fire workers.

“The board’s position is that Ms. Watson took the action at the end of November and a notice was given to employees and posted on the district’s Web site, and over 60 days has run since that notice was done,” he said.

Notices were scheduled to go out next week to retirees and terminated employees explaining how to either enroll in the federal COBRA health plan or pay premiums into the district’s newly created self-insurance plan.

Fired staff to stay on health plan: Hearing scheduled on N.O. school jobs. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 2/2/06. NewsBank. Web.

After taking time to review the federal statute that governs the COBRA health plan, district officials now think no one will be left without health insurance for any length of time, so long as they sign up for the plan by early next month.

Meanwhile, Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese has scheduled a Feb. 13 hearing on a lawsuit challenging the mass terminations. A temporary restraining order he issued Tuesday blocks the firings but adds that “the reduction in force will take effect” at the “close of business Feb. 7.”

Charter chief in ethical tangle: Charter Board chief in an ethical tangle: She also serves on N.O. School Board. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 2/8/06. NewsBank. Web.

The state Ethics Board has ruled that charter board president Lourdes Moran, who also sits on the Orleans Parish School Board, cannot hold both posts.

The Jan. 13 opinion states that the School Board has governing authority over and financial links to the charter school group, and Moran’s dual offices violate a state code barring public servants from entering into transactions with the public agencies they represent.

Mark Beebe, a lawyer for the charter association, said he disagrees with the opinion, claiming the Ethics Board mischaracterized the relationship between the charter board and the School Board in its opinion.

N.O. schools order extended until Monday. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 2/8/06. NewsBank. Web.

An Orleans Parish judge has extended a temporary restraining order that prevents New Orleans Public Schools from firing some 7,500 employees until Feb. 13, an attorney for the district said.

La. high court keeps school firings on hold. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 2/9/06. NewsBank. Web.

Insurance aid for teachers rejected: State House finds expense too high. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 2/13/06. NewsBank. Web.

In a 45-52 vote, lawmakers rejected House Bill 32 by Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, that would have let about 8,000 retirees and almost 17,000 active teachers enroll in the state’s group health-insurance plan, with part of the cost being borne by state taxpayers.

Teachers to get a little more time: 30-day notice needed before they’re fired. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 2/14/06. NewsBank. Web.

Those workers were originally scheduled to be terminated Jan. 31, but an attorney representing seven furloughed school employees won a temporary restraining order that delayed the firings until Monday’s hearing. Civil District Court Judge Ethel Simms Julien further delayed the terminations when she issued a preliminary injunction at the hearing.

The School Board must now either appeal the decision or vote at its next meeting to fire the employees, then mail out notices to each worker’s last known address, said attorney Bill Aaron, who is representing the district.

School Board to redo firings. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 2/15/06. NewsBank. Web.

The Orleans Parish School Board will hold a special meeting today to vote on firing 7,500 district employees, two days after a parish judge ruled the system didn’t properly notify those workers after the board initially approved the mass terminations in December.

Board reaffirms school firings: 7,500 employees set to lose their positions. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 2/16/06. NewsBank. Web.

Board members reapproved the terminations, 4-1, with Heidi Daniels opposed. She later declined to comment on her vote.

“It’s with deep regret we have to do this,” School Board President Phyllis Landrieu said. “It’s due to circumstances totally beyond our control.”

Algiers charter school gets set to open: It’s the 21st in N.O. since the hurricane. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 2/18/06. NewsBank. Web.

Charter schools get royal treatment from krewe: Rex members help struggling educators. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 2/27/06. NewsBank. Web.

When the New Orleans Charter Science and Math High School opened last month, its director suddenly realized she and her staff were on their own.

Besides being responsible for their educating pupils, Barbara MacPhee, her colleagues and a coterie of volunteering parents had become responsible for doing everything to operate the school, from meeting payrolls to assembling a cafeteria team, securing insurance and hiring janitors.

“You don’t realize that you’re starting a business, and the business is public education, but there were all these services that were provided, not efficiently, by the school system,” she said. “I think that we got into this charter-school notion because the public schools weren’t doing well, but there’s no guarantee that because you’re a charter school, you’re going to do well.”

Where to turn for instant expertise?

Enter the Rex organization, which, as part of its post-Katrina service initiative, established Project Purple this month to match its members’ business skills with fledgling educators who need them at the 11 charter schools on Orleans Parish’s east bank.

3 Algiers charter schools planned: Group seeks to run them independently. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 3/2/06. NewsBank. Web.

The Algiers Enterprise Community Council, a group that was created in the mid-1990s with a federal grant but has been dormant for years, is resurrecting itself by applying to the state to open Murray Henderson Middle School and Fischer and McDonogh No. 32 elementary schools.

Teachers union loses its force in storm’s wake: When state took over schools, collective bargaining diminished. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 3/6/06. NewsBank. Web.

The union’s death blow came in November, when the Legislature voted to sweep 87 percent of the system’s schools into a state-run recovery district, annulling the collective bargaining agreement that for years had given United Teachers of New Orleans the exclusive right to negotiate most school employees’ contracts with the School Board.

The largest union in the city before Katrina, UTNO for years played a major role charting the course of public education and making and breaking political careers, particularly through its endorsements of School Board candidates. Although the union had not called a strike in 16 years, intermittent walkouts during the previous decades had emptied school buildings, sometimes for weeks at a stretch. [emphasis added]

Critics accused the union of coddling incompetent teachers and stifling moves toward a more innovative curriculum. Supporters saw the union as a necessary resource for employees of a highly dysfunctional system that routinely lost paychecks and was so cash-strapped it almost failed to make payroll before a private management team was brought in last year.

Today, with its Paris Avenue offices gutted, the union that once represented employees at 117 schools has members at only four campuses.

Charter board weighs ethics conflict: Trustees to consider new rule March 17. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 3/7/06. NewsBank. Web.

In an attempt to resolve an ethics issue swirling around its president, the board of trustees of the Algiers Charter Schools Association has been asked to eliminate a requirement that the position be filled by a member of the Orleans Parish School Board.

It is unclear precisely what effect the change, scheduled to be considered March 17, would have on charter school association President and School Board member Lourdes Moran. The board of trustees tabled a decision on the matter at its meeting Monday.

LEARNING TO CHANGE: There’s a new attitude at O. Perry Walker High School, newly reborn as a charter school. No, its problems haven’t all been erased. But for the first time in years, things seem to be improving. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 3/12/06. NewsBank. Web.

By early this month, progress was already evident, Laurie said. “Now they say, ‘Good morning, Mrs. Laurie’ ” — and she doesn’t always have to say it first.

Moran resigns from charter board: She also serves on N.O. School Board. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 3/21/06. NewsBank. Web.

More schools set to reopen: Additions will bring total in city to 25. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 3/22/06. NewsBank. Web.

The schools — Joseph A. Craig and Benjamin Banneker elementary schools and Joseph S. Clark Senior High School — will open April 18 and are the first to be operated by the Louisiana Department of Education through the “recovery school district,” established by the state Legislature last fall to overhaul more than 100 low-performing schools.

Orleans, Jefferson schools still lag: Tammany deposed from atop La. ratings. New Orleans) Times-Picayune. 3/22/06. NewsBank. Web.

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A mad black woman in New Orleans.
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