Happening Today: Education Week Leadership Symposium. Learn more and register.

Grassroots New Orleans Charter Gives Students ‘Critical Care’

By Lesli A. Maxwell — October 02, 2007 5 min read

Standing before a class of 8th graders at McDonogh 42 Elementary Charter School in late September, Harold Peaden, a retired chemical engineer, slowly explained the steps for solving an equation with one variable. He wrote every step on an overhead projector, and called on each of the 14 students by name to ask if they understood.

Most said yes, they did. At least two needed extra time to work the problem and some requested one-on-one attention from him.

Mr. Peaden’s methodical, personal style is meant to ensure success for these struggling middle school students, some of whom are repeating the 8th grade after they failed Louisiana’s high-stakes exam last school year. Whether those 8th graders succeed this time around is the high-stakes test for the educators at McDonogh 42, one of New Orleans’ newest charter schools.

“Those 8th graders are our critical-care unit,” said Sandra Stafford Frazier, the principal of the 475-student school, which serves children from prekindergarten through 8th grade.

McDonogh 42 Elementary Charter School opened Aug. 13 in Treme, one of New Orleans’ oldest African-American neighborhoods. Overseen by a group of veteran Orleans Parish educators who founded the Treme Charter School Association last year, McDonogh 42 is the first of three elementary schools that the group intends to open in the neighborhood that sits just a few blocks north of the French Quarter.

The Recovery School District—the state-run system that took over most of New Orleans’ public schools after Hurricane Katrina—had opened McDonogh 42 hastily in January to help alleviate a 300-student waiting list. The school was staffed with a corps of mostly rookie teachers and struggled for the five months it was open.

Though the Treme association had proposed taking over a different neighborhood campus for its first charter, RSD officials offered the McDonogh 42 building instead, making the school the first in the city since Katrina to convert from a traditional public school to a charter.

“We want to be part of preserving this neighborhood and making it stronger,” said Roslyn Johnson Smith, a retired area superintendent in the Orleans Parish school district who is the president of the Treme Charter School Association. “This neighborhood right now is home to some of the highest rates of homeless children in the city. We want to circle the wagons around them.”

Principal Lured Back

To do that, Ms. Smith and the rest of the Treme charter team decided to hire as many veteran teachers as they could. The first step was finding a principal who was willing to take on the challenge of starting a school from scratch.

Ms. Frazier, who’d led two New Orleans elementary schools before Hurricane Katrina, had begun to move on. Nearly two years had passed since the storm swept her out of her New Orleans East home. She’d been hired on as a principal at an elementary school in East Baton Rouge Parish, and she and her husband had bought a new home there.

So when her longtime mentor, Ms. Smith, called last May to ask if she’d come back to lead a start-up charter school, Ms. Frazier hesitated. She ached for her hometown, but she liked working in a school system that functioned well.

“But I couldn’t get New Orleans and the children there out of my mind,” she said recently. “And when I heard that I would be able to select every one of the staff members for this charter school, I became very interested.”

By June, Ms. Frazier was back in New Orleans to start assembling her team. Ms. Frazier hired several teachers who worked with her before Hurricane Katrina at H.C. Schaumburg Elementary, a school that had jumped more than 20 points in its student-academic-performance score under Louisiana’s accountability ranking system between the 2003-04 and 2004-05 school years, with a student population that was 80 percent poor.

About This Project

Education Week’s 2007-08 project on the New Orleans schools will include many online-only features, including archives, links, feature stories, photo galleries, Q&As, and more. Learn more about the series.

Through a nationwide teacher-recruitment campaign for New Orleans schools, she snagged other veteran educators, including an experienced middle school principal from Indiana to teach English to the school’s 34 8th graders.

On Aug. 13, Ms. Frazier welcomed students to their first day of school at McDonogh 42. About 22 percent of them had attended the school in its previous incarnation as a Recovery School District campus, but many had gone to other public schools in New Orleans or in cities where they had been living since the hurricane. Some had had little to no schooling at all since the storm.

“My first statement to them was an apology,” said Ms. Frazier. “I told them that adults are responsible for children and that last year, they had been done a disservice. I told them that this year, they would get what I call ‘real school.’ I told them that we are going to teach you despite what all of us have been through.”

On Their Own

Getting McDonogh up and running has not been easy. Though the 82-year-old school building came equipped with computers, textbooks, new furniture, and other supplies, essentials such as exterior doors with secure locks were not in place. The kitchen, which was flooded in the storm, has not been renovated to allow meals to be prepared there—breakfast and lunch is cooked at a nearby campus and transported to the school.

Without a nonprofit or university partner, the Treme Charter School Association has been handling everything on its own. The group had originally partnered with a San Diego-based for-profit education management organization, EdFutures Inc., but the two groups parted ways in the fall of 2006 when they couldn’t agree on what portion of the school’s per-pupil allotment the company would take for its fee, Ms. Smith said.

“We decided we had a lot of capacity ourselves and would do this in a grassroots, intimate way, but we definitely want and need to hire a [chief executive officer],” she said. “We are very cognizant that many charters fail due to financial mismanagement and issues not directly related to academic achievement.”

Rick Ankney, who arrived to teach in New Orleans this fall after serving as a middle school principal in northern Indiana for a decade, is one of the McDonogh 42 teachers that Ms. Smith has faith will take care of the academic challenges at the school. He is teaching language arts to the school’s 8th graders, and three weeks into his new assignment, had found that most of his students were reading at least two years below grade level.

“There’s a lot of work to do,” he said. “It’s pretty clear that this is probably going to be one of the toughest assignments in my career.”

Coverage of public education in New Orleans is underwritten by a grant from the Ford Foundation.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Biden Taps Ex-Obama Aide Roberto Rodriguez for Key Education Department Job
Rodriguez served as a top education staffer to President Barack Obama and currently leads a teacher-advocacy organization.
3 min read
Federal Biden Pitches Plan to Expand Universal Pre-K, Free School Meal Programs, Teacher Training
The president's $1.8 trillion American Families Plan faces strong headwinds as Congress considers other costly administration proposals.
8 min read
President Joe Biden addresses Congress from the House chamber. Behind him are Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress Wednesday night, as Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., applaud.<br/>
Chip Somodevilla/AP
Federal Education Department Kicks Off Summer Learning Collaborative
The Summer Learning and Enrichment Collaborative will boost programs for students acutely affected by COVID-19 in 46 states.
2 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, left, talks with Fort LeBoeuf Middle School teacher Laura Friedman during a discussion on safely returning to schools during the COVID-19 pandemic on March 3, 2021.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, left, talks with Fort LeBoeuf Middle School teacher Laura Friedman during a discussion on safely returning to schools during the COVID-19 pandemic in March.
Greg Wohlford/Erie Times-News via TNS
Federal As 100-Day Mark Approaches, Has Biden Met His School Reopening Goal? And What Comes Next?
President Joe Biden faces a self-imposed deadline of having most K-8 schools open for in-person learning by his hundredth day in office.
6 min read
First Lady Jill Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona tour Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, in Meriden, Ct., on March 3, 2021.
First lady Jill Biden and U.S. Secretary of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona tour Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, in Meriden, Ct., in March.
Mandel Ngan/AP