Secretary Arne Duncan Visits New Orleans

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Secretary Arne Duncan visits Edna Karr High School.

Secretary Arne Duncan visits Edna Karr High School.

Last week, we visited New Orleans, La., to see how schools are doing three years after Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of the city. At Tulane University, we learned about innovation and progress in the metro area during a roundtable discussion with U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, State Superintendent Paul Pastorek, and University President Scott Cowen.

The road to recovery has not been simple in the “Big Easy,” and many of the city’s elementary, middle, and high schools have changed in major ways. Edna Karr High School is one of those schools. (See photos of our visit at Karr High School.) Karr became a college prep charter school after the hurricane, hiring a full-time counselor to focus on helping students prepare for college. Most of these kids are from disadvantaged households and many would be the first in their families to earn a college degree. Natalie Derham is the school’s college counselor and students can talk to her anytime in Karr’s “College Room,” which has 10 computers and lots of resources about higher education. Students told us that Ms. Derham has made a big difference in helping them feel more confident about the college application process.

Karr is a member of the Algiers Charter School Association, which is part of a growing national movement that has seen the creation of more than 3,600 new charter schools in the last 13 years. Principal John Hiser says he can attract top teachers to his school because salaries have shot up by $10,000 in Orleans Parish since 2005. At charter schools like Karr, principals have a lot more control over how they choose to use funds, so dollars go directly to things that benefit kids—like hiring high-quality teachers.

Teaching talent and some truly hardworking students turned around another school we visited—Sophie B. Wright (SBW) Charter School. SBW is located in the state-run Recovery School District and is the first school in the country to be chartered by a historically black institution. At SBW, “everyone is someone.” With this philosophy and under the leadership of Principal Sharon Clark, SBW has seen great improvements in test scores and school climate over the last few years.

Before we talked with SBW students, Principal Clark warmed up a crowd of fourth-graders with a chant about the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP), the state test that students will take next month. Principal Clark asked the group, “What do we tell that LEAP?” “Bring it on!” the students shouted back.

Bring it on, indeed—this is exactly the type of attitude that students, educators, and all of us need to have so that the successes in New Orleans can be taken to scale across the country.

ED Staff