Today in New Orleans, the first brand-new public school building to go up since Hurricane Katrina struck the city almost four years ago is opening to much fanfare and a long list of dignitaries, including Tony Miller, a top deputy to Education Secretary Arne Duncan. (What’s the deal, Arne? No love for NOLA?)
In fact, the Langston Hughes Academy, which opened two years ago to serve K-6 students, is the first new public school building to open in New Orleans since 2003. People outside New Orleans may be surprised that a charter school would be the first to land a new building, but since the storm, some 60 percent of the public school student body is enrolled in charters. In many cities, charter schools have to fight and scrape to find building space.
A gleaming new school building will be an uplifting sight in a city that was home to some of the most broken-down school buildings even before the hurricane. Four more new schools are slated to open between now and next August in the first phase of a massive rebuilding campaign that is being paid for, in large measure, by federal recovery dollars that Louisiana officials, especially state schools chief Paul Pastorek, fought fiercely for.
There’s been little new school construction in the city for decades. One of the newest school buildings in NOLA opened in 1995: the Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology in the Lower Ninth Ward. King, which was not a charter school before the storm, drowned in Katrina’s floodwaters. Through the force of will and personality of the school’s principal, Doris Hicks, the building was gutted, renovated and reopened in August 2007. King has a remarkable story of recovery, which you can read about here.
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.