«Mission Statement The following Mission Statement was adopted by the Board of Directors on March 28, 2000: The Committee for a Better New Orleans is ...»
6.0 Economic development delivery systems; coordination of City, State and colleges and universities with other development organizations.
The City's assets, including its colleges and universities, port and hospitality infrastructure can help strengthen its economic development services.
Strengthen, and where necessary, build New Orleans' capacity to deliver competitive economic development services, in coordination with the State, colleges and universities and other development organizations.
6.1 City to establish and fund an Economic Development Corporation (EDC), governed by an independent authority, to (1) assist business enterprises in dealing with the labyrinth of the City's regulatory processes; and (2) market New Orleans as a competitive place in which to locate, start and/or expand business enterprises.
6.2 EDC to establish strong working relationships with existing regional marketing organizations, the Louisiana Department of Economic Development and the City's colleges and universities, so that the City can take maximum advantage of potential prospects and job-creating opportunities.
6.2.1 Time Frame: January 2003 - Ongoing 6.2.2 Financing: No additional financing required 6.2.3 Resources: No additional human resources required 6.2.4 Legislation: None required
Public education in New Orleans is in severe disarray, a situation that began with forced desegregation in the 1960s and has continued to decline until very recently. The system has been largely neglected by the community, yet the future of the community is inextricably linked to the quality of education available. That this fact is widely recognized is made perfectly clear in the Silas Lee Baseline Survey, in which 96% of respondents indicated that quality public education was the "inextricable link" to future prosperity in New Orleans.
At present, however, less than half of the students who enter kindergarten will graduate from high school. Just a few of the consequences of this alarming fact are unemployment or employment in low paying jobs; drug abuse and crime; a poorly qualified workforce which hinders economic development;
and substantial drain on the City budget to pay for various social services.
While the school system may be said to be in a state of reform, it faces numerous day to day crises that make any attempt to address systemic change supremely difficult. It is encouraging that the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) has begun a process for the adoption of a Strategic Plan.
Accountability measures instituted by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) also pose huge challenges for the local public school system. From high stakes testing like the LEAP tests to ratings of individual schools, measurable standards have been instituted, and consequences set for those schools and students who fail to measure up.
More specifically, students who do not pass the 4th grade and 8th grade LEAP tests do not pass those grade levels. At present, they are being placed in transitional grades, and will be tested again in another year to see if they will be allowed to move on. While this situation is still in flux, in the future more grades will likely be subjected to this type of high stakes testing. In the meantime, school officials are scrambling to incorporate LEAP-focused class work into the school curriculum.
Similarly, schools where too high a percentage of the students fail to achieve adequate scores on reading and math testing are being declared academically unacceptable. Initially, students in these schools will be given school choice options (discussed in more detail further on); eventually, these schools could be subject to comprehensive reconstitution, meaning that they could be completely restaffed and restructured. At present, no clear picture exists of how this might occur, where the resources will come from, what the impact will be on students, parents and the community (not to mention the school staff), and what will happen if such extreme measures still fail to produce to acceptable results.
Should high numbers of students continue to fail the exams, and high numbers of schools fail to elevate their overall performance, BESE could add further mandates, and step into the operating of the school system. Ultimately, the School Board could lose control of the system, or at least be replaced by an appointed rather than elected Board.
In short, the situation is severe, with schools and students performing miserably and the threat of losing local control of the school system looming in the air. Yet the average New Orleanian has little or no understanding of these dire circumstances.
Given its focus on a single system, the existence of a strategic plan, and the inevitability of the state requirements, the Education Task Force found itself facing a very different type of challenge than the other Task Forces. Comprised of professionals from within the academic community as well as a variety of business and civic leaders, the Task Force attempted to focus on issues of community support, system structure and short and long term resource needs rather than internal working details of the school system.
One key topic of discussion was the role of the School Board. OPSB has not functioned well in recent years. While high turnover among elected Board members suggests that the public has exacted some measure of accountability, more is needed. One central issue is the tendency of the Board to micromanage school system operations, despite its own commitment to being a policy-making rather than a managing type of board. Buying into the CEO concept, adhering to a clearly defined governance model and committing to the Strategic Plan are necessary for the system to thrive.
Among the other core problems addressed by the Task Force were:
- School system facilities. Estimates of the costs of needed repairs by outside consultants reach as high as one billion dollars, money that simply does not exist in the community. The magnitude of the problem must not be allowed to keep incremental improvements from occurring. The first step is to accurately assess the full scope of the problem as well as resources available to apply to it, then prioritize the repairs and begin the work process.
- Accountability. In addition to the OPSB, teachers, administrators, parents, students, and the community itself must be accountable for overall school performance. Resources must come from the community and the Board, so that faculty and administrators can receive the training, supplies and other support they need to perform. This translates directly into improvements in the quality of education in classroom. The business community in particular has a vested interest in the success of the schools, since this is the source of their future workforce; they can provide substantial support in terms of teacher training, mentoring, internships, partnerships with individual schools, and much more.
- Parental involvement. In a similar vein, effective avenues for parental involvement must be developed, largely with an individual school site focus. Successful programs from local and national sources must be introduced system-wide, and schools with high levels of parental involvement should mentor those with lower levels. Parental involvement both increases student performance and decreases school violence and discipline problems. At present, many parents feel disenfranchised and/or overwhelmed by the negativity surrounding the system. In addition, many have low levels of education themselves, many are very young, and many are hard-pressed to devote the time and financial resources to school involvement.
- Violence in the schools. Alternative sites for students with special needs will substantially enhance learning opportunities in the regular classrooms, while giving these students the attention and services they need to overcome their difficulties and, where possible, return to their regular schools.
Finding these sites, arranging for them to be staffed and stocked, and bringing together the special resources they need to accomplish their missions are the major challenges.
- Changing roles of the schools. Society now demands that schools be babysitters, disciplinarians, teachers of social skills, and take on many other non-academic roles. Each and every one of these works to the detriment of providing a quality education. A return to academic focus, coupled with increased parental involvement and alternative school sites, will help bring more learning back into the classrooms.
- School choice, meaning that students would be given the option to transfer out of certain schools. Though only just beginning to receive much attention in the community, this issue looms as a consequence of the BESE standards beginning in August of 2001. Nearly fifty New Orleans schools may still be rated academically unacceptable at this time, which could qualify as many as 25,000 students (out of 75,000 in the entire system) for school choice. At this time, very few options exist, with the quantity of students who might qualify for them vastly outnumbering the quantity of available education options (for example, while 25,000 New Orleans students might qualify for school choice, there are only about 1500 private school and 7000 parochial school seats available). Not surprisingly, no more than five percent of parents who have school choice options nationally actually exercise them. The Task Force gave considerable time to study and discussion of partnering with the Catholic School System to provide a partial answer to this problem, with the primary concerns being the selection process, special education students and the state testing requirements. While no conclusion was reached, this is a relationship that merits further exploration.
Conversations about curriculum also took place. The curriculum must be expanded to include job and career training elements, including career and life skills, workforce skills and technology skills training, along with vo-tech and other career/academic pursuits. Students’ experiences within the education system must better match the experiences of real life. Mentoring programs would be of tremendous benefit in this area. In a different vein, the public input phase of the CBNO process identified a strong need to incorporate arts and culture into the curriculum, and to bring the many talented people in the New Orleans artistic community into the schools. While some Task Force members felt that this bordered on micro-managing, and that more useful work could be accomplished by addressing larger issues that provide the framework for learning rather than focusing on specific educational details, the community input strongly supported these types of curriculum enhancements.
From an overall standpoint, the basis for change in all aspects of the situation is public support, from business partners to increased funding, from parental involvement to volunteer tutors. People in all segments of the community need to develop a strong sense of urgency about the entire situation, which can be instilled if they receive enough information about problems and about progress. Most of the publicity surrounding the school system at present is negative; some light must be shone on the positives as well, or hopelessness will set in. Moreover, the consequences of the BESE mandates and the details -indeed, the existence -- of the Strategic Plan must become public knowledge and the foundations of public involvement.
Internal communication is also needed, for many within the system are not well-versed in the Strategic Plan, or have not bought into it, or do not believe that the system itself has truly bought into it.
Community involvement is more likely, and more effective, if those within the system are in a state of reasonable congruence and working towards common goals using common methodology.
Despite the deplorable condition of the school system and the dire consequences staring it in the face, there is some sense of the tide beginning to turn. Concerned citizens are becoming involved, as exemplified by the Greater New Orleans Education Foundation as well as this Task Force, and community awareness of the importance of the schools to the entire City is growing. This Action Plan seeks to build on these inklings of change, to create real momentum and measurable results, to get the school system off the rocks in the short term and on course to a truly brighter future in the long term. Our young people, and our entire City, deserve nothing less.
Key crossover issues:
- Homestead exemption (City Management, Economic Development, Housing)
- Poverty (City Management, Economic Development, Housing, Public Safety)
- Workforce education/development (Economic Development, Public Safety)
- Alternative schools (Public Safety)
Critical Issues and Goals
1.0 Continuing the reform process of the Orleans Parish School System and resolving school system governance issues that threaten local control.
The Education Task Force prioritized a broad community embrace of the reform effort as fundamental to the improvement of the public schools. While the reform effort and the Strategic Plan have been acknowledged as good road maps, the School Board has not fully embraced reform or the Plan, nor is there general understanding of and commitment to reform among school personnel and the broad community. The matter of clearly defining the School Board as a policy-making body and detailing the responsibilities of the CEO and his staff was identified as a critical first, immediate step in the reform effort.
Provide the CEO with the authority and responsibility to take the actions needed to effect short and long-term reform and mobilize the community to support the reform process and ensure continued local control of the school system.
1.1 Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) to affirm its relationship with the CEO based upon generally accepted principles of school system governance, as set forth in the Carver Governance Model, the Metropolitan Area Committee Governance Plan (1997) and the Declaration of Intent to Reform (November 18, 1998).