As a parent who regularly speaks with other parents and individuals about education in New Orleans I can tell you we have questions and concerns about a bill recently passed to transfer NOLA charter schools from the Recovery School District to the Orleans Parish School Board.
It looks like the community is galvanized around bringing the schools under local control. Groups of leaders and parents seem to agree, I believe for it to be successful there needs to be more voices in the room. I am always concerned about the most vulnerable individuals in our society being represented at the table and being heard. The group that will be most affected by the transfer from one authority, the RSD, to another, the OPSB, are the nearly 90% of the city’s children that makeup the charter school’s student body.
Has anyone asked them or their families what they think? If so, what were the results? What are the top concerns raised and how have they been addressed?
To tell the truth, nobody asked me. I’ve got kids in these schools. I’ve got skin in the game. Parents like me should have a say too, right?
The Bill (SB 432) that will become law should concern parents. The bill requires all schools to participate in the parish-wide enrollment system (One App) and student expulsion process. This has been a challenge that took the RSD time to iron out. Does the OPSB have the capacity to prevent the system from splitting up families, and sending children across town? Is OPSB capable of making the necessary changes that will make the choice of a school less of a chore for the cities families?
The student expulsion process and suspension rates in our school system have also been under scrutiny. Will this issue improve under the OPSB? Parents who have had multiple bad experiences want a better system, a system that doesn’t merely hand down punitive action to our children but a system that gives positive reinforcements that will build children’s confidence and teach them life skills. No one has said that changing overseers of charter schools will get us a better system of discipline, and that’s a problem. While “governance” is an important issue, we need leaders who think about the ground level too.
I recently attended a forum that featured some of the major educational players who took part in several committees that helped shape SB 432. The forum was hosted by the 100 Black Men of Greater New Orleans led by President Jonathan Wilson. Their coalition includes Total Community Action (TCA), The Orleans Public Education Network (OPEN), Inspire NOLA Charter Group, New Orleans College Prep Charter Schools, The Orchid Society, The National Coalition of 100 Black Women, The Alliance for Diversity and Excellence and the Alliance for Citizen engagement. To their credit they have drafted a list of five basic principles for unification:
- Sovereignty of local control – Decision making at the local level
- Close equity gaps – Fair distribution of MFP funds
- System efficacy and accountability – Accountability of people for educational outcomes and their use of funds
- Data transparency and integrity – Public access to information and clear consequences for abuse
- Safe and secure learning environments – Quality facilities conducive to teaching and learning
These are reasonable principles. I’m glad we have good people working on our behalf. That said we have to be real and admit passing a bill, law or policy isn’t going to be the end all, be all.
I want to believe this strong coalition of citizens groups and educators are prepared for the challenge of governing schools. They have tried to lay out their expectations from the next school board that will be elected in November, and what will be expected from the Superintendent of the OPSB.
In the future I would like to see more parent involvement in these efforts, but for now I know it will be our responsibility as citizens to hold our elected officials accountable to our needs. In the end governance should happen only for one reason, to make things better for our most vulnerable citizens.
Our struggle is for children, our future, our responsibility.
Lamont Douglas is a NOLA parent and education activist who led a successful campaign to change the leadership of his child’s elementary school. He blogs at Second Line Blog.