The Orleans Parish School Board held its first meeting as head of the new unified school district Thursday night. Nearly all public schools in the parish are under its control for the first time since Hurricane Katrina. But while the district is unified, public opinion is not.
Inside the boardroom, Superintendent Henderson Lewis praised the district’s schools for gains made since the state overhauled the system after Hurricane Katrina and turned it over to charter schools. He pointed to improvements in the graduation rate and reading and math scores. But outside, some students painted a different picture.
"Basically the school board is not doing what they should for us as students," a New Orleans high school student said. We’re calling her T, because she’s afraid of retaliation from school administrators. She was demonstrating with a student group called Rethink, which is often critical of Orleans Parish schools.
"Last year a lot of the core classes did not have teachers, and when we did get teachers, it was halfway through the school year," T says. "We had to catch up. The teachers that they gave us could not teach. So by the time the final test came around toward the end of the year no one knew anything."
T and other students with Rethink say they have been suspended without good reason, and that they don’t have updated textbooks or technology.
Parents with the group Nuestra Voz were also there. They were upset about stagnant test scores, and the persistent achievement gap for black and latino youth. Just 17 percent of English language learners in Orleans Parish schools scored at grade-level last year.
Superintendent Lewis agreed test scores show "too many young people are not getting the education they deserve."
He says the board will continue to address the achievement gap and work with community groups.
Support for WWNO’s education reporting comes from Entergy Corporation.