A crowd openly hostile to Recovery School District Superintendent Paul Vallas used a state board of education meeting to raise concerns about whether charter schools are leaving the most vulnerable children behind.
When Vallas stated at Monday's meeting that charters are doing "a heck of a job" educating public school students, the mostly African-American audience responded with jeers. Many speakers called for the return of neighborhood schools and expressed fears that many charters accept only students with high test scores.
"Charters don't want anything to do with our children. They're sending them away," said Brenda Valteau, who identified herself as a 1961 graduate of George Washington Carver High School. "We're losing our young people to the streets. It sounds like a conspiracy to me."
Most New Orleans public schools were deemed low-performing and in 2005 turned over to the state-run Recovery School District and converted to charters. The Orleans Parish School Board, which once controlled more than 100 schools, retains only 16: 12 of them independently run charters and four traditional public schools.
The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's Recovery School District committee usually meets in Baton Rouge, but it held its meeting at McDonogh 35 High School in New Orleans on Monday. More than two dozen parents, teachers and community activists spoke during the public comment section of the meeting, which sometimes took on a raucous air as speakers made provocative statements and the crowd made its approval or disapproval known.
Darryl Kilbert, superintendent of the Orleans Parish School Board, drew cheers when he called for all of the city's public schools to return to local control. Kilbert's reception contrasted with the audience's skepticism toward BESE members from other parts of the state.
"I urge you to hear the voice of the community. I'm saying to you, it's time to bring our schools back home," Orleans Parish School Board member Ira Thomas said, echoing Kilbert's comments.
Vallas said after the meeting that although the RSD still needs to improve its services for special education students, its charter schools have open enrollment policies and do not exclude anyone. The district is improving test scores and building new schools, soliciting plenty of community input in doing so, he said.
"It's basically the same old, same old. It's a group that wants the schools returned to OPSB," Vallas said of Monday night's crowd. "That's it, that's the thrust, that's the theme."
Some speakers at the meeting pleaded to preserve schools with long traditions of educating the city's African-American students. Others called for a new elementary school and high school in the Katrina-devastated Lower 9th Ward.
Jonas Nash led a group of Joseph S. Clark High School graduates concerned about the school's possible conversion to a charter.
"How can there continue to be a Joseph S. Clark High School, when it looks like it's being phased out?" Nash asked.
Vallas acknowledged that the school might become a charter because it is not meeting academic performance standards. But he tried to reassure the alumni group that Clark will exist under the same name.
"There is going to be a Clark High School. The question is what kind of high school is it going to be?" Vallas said. "As there will always be a Clark, there will always be a John McDonogh, there will always be a Carver. There will be a new high school in the Lower 9th Ward. There is going to be a high school in the Lower 9th, because we secured federal funding."
Cindy Chang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.826.3386.
"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Angry New Orleans Parents Not Nearly So Thankful for Katrina as Duncan
Paul Vallas, the man who taught Arne Duncan everything he doesn't know about schools, now runs the discriminatory corporate chain gang charters that have replaced public school.s in New Orleans. Parents have seen their children neglected, abused, and pushed out long enough to know that they want their schools back. From the Times-Picayune: