Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Tamer of Schools Has Plan in New Orleans

Speaking of huge challenges -- and a great person to tackle them -- here's an article about Paul Vallas and New Orleans:

Mr. Vallas, a newcomer with an unblinkered eye, has a plan. It  is not exactly like the plans he had for Chicago and Philadelphia, cities where as superintendent he was credited with making sizable dents in the troubles of dysfunctional school systems. He raised test scores, for instance, with the help of after-school programs, and he improved math proficiency and  opened new schools.
In New Orleans, the strategy cannot be the same, for a simple  reason: “There’s much deeper poverty here,” Mr. Vallas said. “So you take deep poverty and then you compound that by the aftermath of the hurricane, by the physical, psychological, emotional damage inflicted by the hurricane. It’s  ike the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
His plan is to have the schools be more than schools. They have to be substitute families, an idea that has been tried elsewhere, though rarely to this extent, and which remains a new concept in New Orleans.
Children are arriving at the schools here hungry, Mr. Vallas said, and they are going to bed hungry. In the summer, children broke into one school to raid a vending machine, they were so hungry. More than 90 percent of his 12,000-odd students in the Recovery School District, now run by the state,  are in poverty, and the vast majority are being raised by single parents. Many are not being brought up by their biological parents, Mr. Vallas said, and some are not even living with guardians.
Under these circumstances, he said, focusing on the classroom is not enough. “You begin to provide the type of services you would normally expect to be provided at home,” Mr. Vallas said. That means giving the students three meals a day, including hot lunch and dinner. It means providing dental care and eye care.
He intends to tighten up in class as well: a smaller  student-teacher ratio, more uniform instruction, new textbooks and technology,  partnerships with universities and industry. He has replaced all but one of last year’s high school principals.


A Tamer of Schools Has Plan in New Orleans
Published: September 24, 2007
www.nytimes.com/2007/09/24/education/24orleans.html <http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/24/education/24orleans.html>

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 23 — The schools here have fresh paint, the bathroom stalls have doors, the library at the largest high school has books again and the angry demonstrations that met last school year’s chaotic opening have not been repeated.


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