Education Opinion

Saturday Morning

By Roslyn Johnson Smith, Ph.D. — January 12, 2008 4 min read
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Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.

--Lee Holz

This morning, I attended a 2-hour meeting at a neighborhood high school. It was a city-wide School Facilities Master Plan for New Orleans meeting to determine the fate of every public school, opened or shuttered, in New Orleans. The meeting had been organized by the leaders of the Orleans Parish School Board and the Recovery School District.

Information from the website at www.sfmpop.org states, “The School Facilities Master Plan is a comprehensive plan for the Orleans Parish public schools. The plan will serve as a blueprint to guide future school renovations and new construction. It is a joint project of the Recovery School District (RSD) and the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB).”
Discussion centered around three questions:

• how many schools are needed and where they should be located
• which buildings should be repaired and brought up to current building codes
• which ones should be torn down and rebuilt new or used for other purposes.

There was an article announcing the series of these planning meetings to be held in specific geographical areas of the city (West Bank, Uptown, Eastern New Orleans, Midcity, and Downtown) in the Times-Picayune on January 9th. I read the article and searched the lists of school sites on the schedule to see when our school was being discussed. McDonogh 42 Elementary Charter School was not listed. I figured it was just an oversight by the reporter.

Later, I went to the web site to see when our school would be discussed and where. It was not on the web site list either. I called the RSD office to ask an administrator why our school was not on any of the lists. He called back later and said he did not know why we were not listed, but that every school was supposed to be a part of one group. I also emailed the planners. All of the schools near us were scheduled for this morning’s meeting. I checked my email to see if anyone had answered my question. At 10:00 a.m. I decided to attend, just in case. I’m glad I went.

The meeting was already in process when I arrived. Each school had a section of a table set up with an agenda, sign in sheets, a map of the schools in question, worksheets for the discussion, and data sheets on the school. Since our school was not in any of the announcements, I didn’t expect to see any of our people. As I looked around the cafeteria, I could not spot anyone that I knew to be associated with the school.

When I finally found the assigned table (after being directed to sit anywhere), I was pleasantly surprised to meet several members of various community groups who were associated with the general area around our school and were interested in its future. Our table group included representatives from two home owners’ associations and a facility architect. I met the new RSD Director of Facility Planning and talked with the consultant hired to help design some of the facilities. I learned that our school kitchen was scheduled to be completed before next year, but not this school year. I have no idea what kitchen equipment costs, but we might need to make some of the purchases ourselves instead of waiting for the big renovation. We borrowed one piece of equipment and I think we’ll have to return it before this year is out.

The meeting’s facilitator was an energetic woman whose work includes helping groups to do strategic plans. I was very happy to meet her. We need to develop a plan to apply for grant funds; it can’t be a one or two year deal. It will need to be long term. When I introduced myself, she said she had read a story about our school related to special education. She was surprised that I admitted we did not have all of the services for our children and said in her experience, most groups would skirt the issue, being less than honest. Full disclosure is not such a challenge for schools, if you understand the laws around public records requests. Anybody can find out information about a school, its programs, student enrollment, even the salaries of the staff. She asked what I thought of the meeting. With the exception of one presentation that I’d already seen three times in the past two years, I thought it went very well. I’m looking forward to the next step in the process.

When the meeting was finished, I had an opportunity to talk to two principals about their observations of the teachers who returned after Hurricane Katrina. They are in schools that reopened in 2006-07. Both principals noticed that teachers from different schools had very unique mindsets about students, teaching, and school philosophy. Although the teachers were working in one school that has its own strong culture, many of them were not happy trying to adjust to the school. This year, those teachers were able to return to their former places of employment. Even though the schools to which they returned had new principals, the teachers seem to be doing better. One size definitely does not fit all.

This meeting was well worth getting up early on a Saturday morning.

The opinions expressed in Starting Over: A Post-Katrina Education are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.