Saving John Mac Wednesday, Aug 6 2014 

2 Open Letters to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

The Recovery School District has neglected this school for too long.  It's time to return it to the Orleans Parish School Board

The Recovery School District has neglected this school for too long. It’s time to return it to the Orleans Parish School Board

John Mc Donogh High School  was one of the first high schools to open in the Recovery School District after Hurricane Katrina.  Almost from the beginning,  the John Mc Donogh community sought to work with the Recovery School District (RSD)  to improve the school and instill in it, the kinds of programs that the community knew were necessary for the success of the children in New Orleans.  At every turn the community’s efforts were rebuffed, eventually in favor of chartering the school under Future is Now Schools.  The RSD closed John Mc Donogh High School at the end of the 2013-2014 school year.  The John Mc Donogh Steering committee has never given up and will never give up.  It has garnered the support of the Orleans Parish School Board in requesting the return of John Mac and has secured more than 500 signatures on a petition.  Members of the steering committee and attorney Willie Zanders appeared before the July 30, 2014  Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) committee of the whole to request the return of John Mac.  Attorney Willie Zanders  presented 9 very compelling reasons why the BESE should return John Mc Donogh High School to the jurisdiction of the Orleans Parish School Board in his July 30, 2014 Open Letter.

(Be sure to click on the links in the letters)

BESE Committee members listening to the testimony of community members

BESE Committee members listening to the testimony of community members


During the July 30, 2014 BESE meeting, Vice President James Garvey stated that the board needed to seek a legal opinion to determine if it has the authority to return the school, or was this a decision to be made by Recovery School District Superintendent Patrick Dobard.  Attorney Willie Zanders lays out a very thorough analysis that shows that BESE does indeed have the authority to return John Mac to the Orleans Parish School Board in an Open Letter dated August 4, 2014.

Support the John Mc Donogh High School Steering Committee by liking their Facebook Page and signing the petition.



Broken Promises: New Orleans Public School Reform Thursday, Aug 25 2011 

Students, teachers, parents, community members and the press are invited to join the John McDonogh Alumni Association, Parents Across America NOLA, the Downtown Neighborhood Improvement Association, and the Esplanade Ridge/Treme Civic Association in front of John McDonogh High School, 2426 Esplanade Avenue, at 5:30 PM on August 29, 2011 to commemorate the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, to review the state of public education in New Orleans six years later, and to set a course to save our schools.

Taking the fate of John McDonogh Senior High as an example of the failed policies and broken promises of the Recovery School District, advocates for children, teachers and community schools will gather to pray and to demonstrate our investment in our children and our schools.  We will be asking hard questions about the ways charter schools have negatively affected our children and about the scandals and failures of charter schools and RSD-run schools.  Together we will assert our right to a democratic voice in how schools are rebuilt, what schools are rebuilt, and who runs the schools in our communities.

We will look at the betrayal of public trust in the past six years as the RSD has held community meetings, promised public engagement and then disregarded the wishes of parents and stake-holders again and again.  We will examine the false choices that the school district has offered parents and children and the way school choice has divided schools from their communities and from parental oversight and involvement.  We will condemn the political influence, waste and lack of foresight that has characterized the rebuilding and renovations of schools thus far and demand a fair, equitable and transparent process going forward.  We will expose RSD’s deliberate and systematic neglect of certain schools to justify takeover and closure.  We will stand up to save John McDonogh and all of our schools from autocratic decisions made by unelected, out-of-touch and out-of-town administrators.

Please join with us on Monday, August 29, 2011 at 5:30 PM in front of John McDonogh High School to advocate for the right of every New Orleans public school child to real recovery, real reform, real improvement and real choice in their schools.

The Political Theatrics of False Community Engagement: Who’s Playing Whom in Education Downtown? Thursday, Jul 28 2011 

At a recent education summit at the healing Center on Saint Claude Avenue, Ms. Karran Harper Royal, an educational advocate, spoke frankly about the false community engagement that has become the norm in the post-Katrina educational reform environment and the battles between public schools controlled by the Recovery School District (RSD) and Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB).  She was critical of public forums that were simply staged to check off the community engagement box while closed-door decisions had already been made concerning what neighborhood was going to get what school.
She addressed the frustrations of false processes that have exhausted many communities across the city, where they have been told that their engagement was crucial to the decision-making procedure for schools in their neighborhoods—only to learn that a charter model not of their choice was moving in.  For community members in attendance from the St. Roch, Marigny, and Bywater neighborhoods, her comments could not have been more sobering.  Many concerned families in these three historic neighborhoods have been struggling with the RSD over what charter model was going into the Colton School Building, which is under reconstruction.
Describing the actual rebuilding at Colton a “renovation” is a stretch.  Sadly, the historic building is undergoing a destruction process, and it has been literally stripped to an empty concrete shell of its once regal redbrick imposing and historical characteristics.  I live two blocks from Colton on Saint Claude Avenue, and it breaks my heart everyday I pass the destruction site.  However, that’s another story altogether.
This story continues with another educational gathering concerning the Colton site and the corporate-for-profit educational behemoth know as KIPP, whose acronym stands for Knowledge is Power Program.  Apparently, KIPP is not only all-powerful but also all-knowing of the future to come because it blatantly claims the Colton facility on its web site as its own—as a done deal.  The flyer distributed at its recent Monday, July 25th meeting, where the new RSD Superintendent Mr. John White spoke, claims it again.  It literally states “Colton will house KIPP New Orleans Leadership Academy and Primary (KNOLA), temporarily operating in the Frederick Douglass Building (alongside KIPP Renaissance High School) in 2012.  At KIPP, we believe that communities and schools are partners in serving children.”
It continues, “Altogether, families living near Colton are choosing a KIPP education, making the voice of the community clear: KIPP operates schools that the people in the neighborhood want.”  It looks like the KIPP Corporate leadership team forgot to tell that to Mr. White, who clearly stated that before making a decision on Colton, he was also open to hearing from a neighborhood group that was creating their own charter.  He candidly opened by saying, “I think in the past my organization has not always done the best job of being transparent.”  He expressed “deep regrets” about questionable decision making processes that have affected neighborhood families and their children.  Quite convincingly, he portrayed himself as a leader committed to hearing all sides before making any decisions on what school gets what facility.
So who is playing whom here?  Was Mr. White putting on a public show, and did he not see the flier that KIPP distributed to all who entered the Douglass Building presentation hall?  Was this just another episode of false community engagement?  For all his seemingly genuine talk about listening to all sides from the community at large, and after more than half an hour of numerous orchestrated testimonials from KIPP parents proclaiming how great the school was for their children, Mr. White finished by saying that he was open to hearing from other community members in attendance, but that only three minutes were left.
Mr. White’s charismatic and candid approach had me convinced he was a new breed of RSD leader, but when he left all of three minutes for anyone else to question KIPP or him, it was obvious that the community was being played.  Unfortunately, it became even more apparent when I asked a critical question about whether KIPP hires novice non-union teachers who are unprepared, and in doing so have helped to cripple the African American Teachers’ Union in New Orleans.  I asked a direct hard question because these are hard times.  Our children’s future demand hard questions about who is properly prepared to take on the monumental responsibility of educating them.
Mr. White’s mood turned.  His lips became pursed, and he was dismissive of my question by simply asking the KIPP crowd, “Do you have good teachers here?”  They roared a resounding yes.  It was expected like an eerily orchestrated event, where questioning the all-mighty KIPP was not part of the community engagement process.  I continued with my line of questioning and referred to an article in the American Independent, which quoted a Southern Poverty Law Center study about many charters’ suspect security measures.  KIPP was the biggest culprit with draconian punishment of their students written into their guidebook.
Mr. White responded abruptly, “You are bringing politics into an environment that’s about kids and parents, and it’s an unfortunate occurrence.”  Dismissively, he looked away and ended the three-minutes for the community to ask questions.  He made a political choice to shut down any line of questioning that challenged KIPP, whose educational practices he applauded time and time again during his ample time professing his more “transparent” strategy to hear all sides of the educational debate.
How is it not a political struggle when the article I referenced is from a section called “State Politics in Context,” and the renowned SPLC, whose Civil Rights and social justice practices are about challenging the bad politics that affect people of color?  The RSD itself is a state governance agency from Baton Rouge, and its making political decisions on education reform in New Orleans post-Katrina.  The questions were concerned with accountability of a corporate charter that is awarded millions in public funds generated by the taxes collected from homeowners like myself.  Mr. White’s job is to develop just policies on what charters get what facilities.  It sounds like politics, but it is looking more like the same dubious politics that we, the people, have struggled with since the RSD took control of our neighborhood schools.
Colton is two blocks away from the home I own with my wife and two little boys, and the KIPP corporate charter model is not the type of school I want in my neighborhood.  The taxes I pay will go to support them, whether I want them or not.  The families in the immediate area of Colton envision a different charter model, one dramatically in contrast to KIPP and the offensive presumptuous that “all people in the neighborhood” have chosen them.  The KIPP propaganda flyer is attached.  Read for yourselves and forward it to Mr. White.  Post it on your face book accounts and distribute it to your own cyber communities.
We are being played all over again.  This is not a time for civility.  This is a time for outrage.  This is a time to demand that policy makers like Mr. White give us more than three minutes and the theatrical politics of public lip service as part of more false community engagement.
Ashé y adelante gente!
José Torres-Tama
ArteFuturo Productions
New Orleans, LA 70117
“Make art that matters!”
This is a guest blog from a gentleman I met at a community meeting last week.   I am very pleased to have inspired Mr. Torres-Tama to write this piece.   This is exactly the kind of community push back that we need  to truly reform our public education system.  We can’t allow “Fake Community Involvement”  to go unchecked.
Thank you very much Mr. Torres-Tama

Parents Across America Weigh in on “Parent Trigger” Wednesday, Mar 16 2011 

Parents Across America has released a position statement on Parent Trigger Legislation.

Battle for Greater Gentilly High School Friday, Feb 25 2011 

Greater Gentilly High School

One of the first 5 new schools built in New Orleans after Katrina

Recently the Recovery School District  (RSD) in New Orleans embarked upon a community engagement campaign.   Meetings were scheduled in each of our 5 city council districts with the alleged purpose to get community input into building assignments.  The RSD claimed to want our input as to which academic program/charter we wanted to occupy the buildings in our communities.  I attended each of these meetings to observe and hear what the community wanted.  When the meeting occurred in my district, I chose to speak up regarding the new Greater Gentilly High School.

Just prior to the beginning of the meeting, RSD Superintendent Paul Vallas approached me and  asked if we could have a truce.  It was clear to me  that he didn’t want me to speak that night because  he said that I was going to “get what I wanted.”    He assumed that I wanted the plan to merge the Greater Gentilly High School with the Marshall Early College High School operated by the University of New Orleans’ Charter School Network.   Unfortunately, when I approached Paul Vallas about this last year, he decided that the merger would not happen.  Now that he has been negotiating with UNO  without my input, he assumes that the deal on the table is “what I want.”   I told him that I was forced to support a charter for this school because he did not keep his promise to our community to allow the decision making around this school to be driven by our Gentilly Community Steering Committee.  I told Mr. Vallas that we could not have a truce and that I would be speaking at this meeting.

Since this video was recorded, I have now completely pulled my reluctant support from the planned merger of Greater Gentilly High School and the Marshall Early College High School.   The UNO Charter School Network can not promise our community that it will keep the technology program that our community worked to establish at Greater Gentilly High School.   This is yet another example of the fake community engagement that is occurring in New Orleans.  There are several examples of  “fake” community engagement here in New Orleans.  I will share more of those examples over the next few weeks.