#*@*%^#*@*%^!!: Schools Edition

1. “School fair attendance gets failing grades” (cute title for a very not-cute story):

Addressing about 30 people Saturday during an event designed to help parents begin signing up their children for the 2008-09 school year, Recovery School District superintendent Paul Vallas bemoaned what he described as a poor outreach effort to make parents aware of a new streamlined application process that covers most of New Orleans’ public schools.

With the registration period set to end Wednesday, Vallas said that based on attendance at the event, education officials, including those under his command, have not done enough to inform parents about the new process. He suggested several times that the registration deadline should be pushed back.

“If you provide choices, but nobody knows there’s choices, is it really a choice?” Vallas said. “Freedom is information.”

Organized by the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, the Schools Fair 2008 was intended to provide parents of more than 32,000 New Orleans public school students with a one-stop shop to learn about the dozens of schools that will be open next fall, including charter schools and schools run by the Recovery School District and the Orleans Parish School Board. The event was held at the New Orleans Museum of Modern Art.

Sixty-nine schools set up booths in the museum’s main atrium and exhibit rooms, passing out candy and proffering information about their institutions.

As Mister pointed out, few in any of the administrations in charge of local schools acknowledge the complexity of the “system” and the difficulty of knowing which administration or disseminator of information to listen to about which school or schools or process or deadline. There are three administrations involved and each has its own set of charter schools: OPSB, RSD and the state.

And parents were expected to browse Saturday and put in applications by Wednesday? There’s problem in that timing, too. What if you work? What if a child gets sick and this is the one chance you have to check out anything in any kind of detail (if possible)? The key to high attendance is to reduce as many obstacles as possible so it’s stupid-easy to be there. Unlike Mr. Vallas and those working for him, parents do not have the school “system,” or a part of it, as their full-time jobs.

Choices, choices, choices–makes me want to spit acid and nails. As if “choices” is all there is to it, as if THAT were the single systemic problem in the school system we had before. For example, if OPSB no longer has a full slate of schools, why in the hell does it take 2-3 months for any goddamn thing to get done? Or filled out? And what can you know about a brand-new charter school or even one only a year old? How can you tell without doing the process part-time, or having teaching experience and/or an education degree, if a charter or non-charter school is experiencing growing/start-up pains or failing? How do you know what the mission statement comes down to in practice? Why are uniforms so universal in this “choice-filled” system?

The common application was touted as a one-size-fits-all, one-page form that parents could use to apply at once to all but a few of the city’s public schools, all under the same deadline. Released in January, it promised to greatly simplify the registration process that had befuddled and frustrated parents in 2006 and 2007, with varying applications, requirements and deadlines for the bevy of schools.

The deadline for the new common application was set for Feb. 27, five months earlier than last year’s deadlines. Education officials said students would learn where they were accepted within three weeks, and would they have until the end of March to register.

Five months earlier than last year’s deadlines? March registration? That seems convenient for the administration but what about parents with jobs, multiple kids, post-flood issues of all varieties? And was this for all RSD schools or also OPSB schools? What about the charter schools? And which charters? One application to apply to how many of the 82 schools in the city limits? Are there elementary and high school applications? No, I didn’t go because I didn’t know about it either.

Vallas, however, worried aloud that Saturday’s turnout was an indication that the school districts, charters and education nonprofits had not done enough to inform parents about the streamlined application process and the earlier deadline.

“We should have standing room only . . . because there are more choices than this district has ever offered in the past. Before this window closes, we need to get the word out. People should be begging for those common application forms,” Vallas said.

“Should be begging” is an unfortunate turn of phrase in this situation. Again, we have a school administration waiting for parents to kiss their feet and cry with gratitude, it seems, before offering any results or really simplifying a complicated and bewildering “system.”

In addition, the 2008 New Orleans Parents’ Guide to Public Schools, compiled by the New Orleans Parent Organizing Network, was just released Saturday, giving parents fewer than five days to peruse the book of more than 100 pages for information on schools.

Urban League representative Deirdre Johnson Burel acknowledged that there was “a bit of a delay” in releasing the Parents’ Guide. Aesha Rasheed, with the Parent Organizing Network, said work on the guide “ramped up really fast” at the start of the year, adding that the 2008 guide made significant improvements upon the previous version, released in last August. [emphasis added]

I’m sure all involved mean well but this really looks like callous indifference to very serious, complex decisions people need to make for their fucking children.

2. Looking for details on the community meeting about the schools master plan, I found PDFs for each meeting and area full of pages on the schools like this:

The narrative about the master plan, the site considerations and the citywide meeting results are repeated with each school, verbatim. It is a waste of space and makes it look like there’s information here. (I’d flunk a student for that.) There’s some information but not what you’d expect after clicking on Community Meetings.

Notice the “meeet”–it pops up again and again.

What will Hardin, or any of the others slated for “complete replacement,” be replaced with? When? For what purpose? Hardin’s second page has the Google map and same “information” again.

What will be renovated? When? Will this school or another reopen in the newly-renovated building?

None of the currently open schools have statistics more recent than 2002. What “moderate renovation”? Am I really asking for too much information from something listed as “Meeting #2“? Are all site issues exactly the same?

And why did I spend my unpaid, untrained time sifting through this (and more) instead of a reporter who is paid to monitor our community and what does and doesn’t fucking work? Dumbass pictures of Nagin and Riley are infinitely easier, I know. (pic link from Ashley Morris: the blog)

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Next installment: the NOLA Parents’ Guide to Public Schools

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