What’s Working and What Isn’t at NOLA Public Schools?

New Orleans 500 Survey August 2022

NEW ORLEANS — Teachers are organizing their classrooms, students are finishing up summer assignments and the entire New Orleans public school system is getting ready to start a “normal,” in-person year of learning.

As part of her 100-day plan, new NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Avis Williams has been asking members of the community what they think is working in the city’s schools and what needs to change. We posed the question to members of the New Orleans 500 — our curated list of influential, involved and inspiring executives — in this month’s email survey.

Here are notable responses:

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“I think the charter system can work. What I hear parents complain about is consistency in the schedules and fairness between the schools (‘A’ schools v. ‘F’ schools). There is also a disproportionate number of minority students in the ‘F’ schools. With the OneApp, that should not be the case. I realize that there are a lot of factors that go into being an ‘A’ school that the superintendent and/or school cannot control — like parental involvement, home life, mental and emotional capacity, etc. — but there are a lot of factors that can be controlled: teachers mentoring teachers at different schools, sharing successful curricula and sharing successful teaching techniques, and principals sharing knowledge with other principals.” — Michelle Craig, owner, Transcendent Law Group and Prosquire

“Teacher wages should be increased to reflate the toll of inflation.” — Jon Renthrope, executive director, New Orleans Regional Black Chamber of Commerce, and CEO, Cajun Fire Brewing Company

The majority of N.O. 500 survey respondents have school-age children. Of those, 54% attend private school vs. 46% who are enrolled in public schools.

“What’s working is the variety of learning methodologies. For example, the Rooted School is blending traditional education and high-tech certification with industry-specific tracks such as biomedical sciences and engineering as part of the Project Lead The Way curriculum. Opportunities include adding more physical education and Spark-style exercise interventions. It is proven that exercise primes the brain for learning, and, especially with boys, can have a calming effect, lessening the need for discipline outside the classroom. [We also need] the return of community schools, especially for early childhood and primary education. Our current system has made it so some kids are on buses for significant time each day.” — Will Scott, CEO, Search Influence

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“Our teachers are working hard and for the good of our youth. We need to continue to invest in them. They serve the future promise of our city. We need to make sure that they are valued, recognized and compensated appropriately for their noble profession. God bless our teachers.” — Justin Daffron, interim president select of Loyola University New Orleans

“Charters have helped, [but the] the standards and expectations are too low.” — Guy Williams, CEO, Gulf Coast Bank

“The best, and most evidence-based, chance our city has of improving outcomes for K-through-12 students is to have a robust system of birth-through-5 early learning that is effectively synched with the city’s public primary and secondary education system. If children (and their families) show up to kindergarten completely ready socially, emotionally, physically, cognitively and behaviorally, the likelihood that they will succeed throughout their entire academic, professional and personal lives grows exponentially.” — Keith Liederman, CEO at Kingsley House

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“[Schools need more] transparency and a focus on student experience and outcome. With all due respect, the 100-day plan includes items that are laudable however not the highest priority for New Orleans Public Schools.” — Vince Hayward, CEO, L.H. Hayward Co.

“Alignment of admission timelines [would help] enable the comparison of options. [The system needs] better geographic coverage for early childhood education in Mid-City, New Orleans East and downriver neighborhoods. — Jon Atkinson, CEO, Idea Village

“I have one child in a public charter school and one child in a private school to accommodate their individual needs. I have observed so far in the first few weeks of school this year that both schools are working hard on increased parent communication and engagement. Staffing seems to be the biggest challenge for public schools as teachers leave the classroom in droves.” — Amy Collins, CEO, Gambel Communications

“Parents need to be accountable first, not the school or the instructors. Evaluate curriculum while expanding the availability and the use of trade schools. Not all adults are geared for or have an interest in higher education. Encourage the military career path.” — Ed Webb, CEO, World Trade Center New Orleans

“[Schools need] more investment from the larger community, civic organizations and businesses. For New Orleans to succeed, we must have vibrant, robust public schools.” — Jennifer Avegno, director, New Orleans Health Department

“Charter School Management Organizations, which have succeeded by improving educational outcomes for the NOLA students as measured by the state (or some other credible evaluation methodology), should be given the opportunity to expand and secure additional charter schools and locations. That said, charter schools should still be allowed to experiment to determine if outcomes can be improved through the non-traditional education model. Additionally, open enrollment is beneficial to having parents and students having a choice, but the transportation costs (i.e. busing) are prohibitive. Transportation costs must be addressed and reduced. This is a monumental task.” — Mark Beebe, partner, Adams and Reese

“The World Population review ranks Louisiana public schools 50th in America. NOLA Public schools rank lower than the Louisiana state average. Whatever is working isn’t working good enough. Where to start? Leadership, teacher quality and training, curriculum, the circular environment (families/parents, poverty, gangs, drugs, crime), economic support.” — Mike Eckert, chairman, NO/LA Angel Network

“Quit lowering the bar [and] graduating students not prepared for the world of work or higher education.” — Boysie Bollinger, chairman and CEO, Bollinger Enterprises

“What’s working is the idea that we need more participation from our parents and public leaders to come up with a solution as to what our youth may need to flourish in academics properly. What needs to change is the lack of art programs in the schools. We need more music, fine arts and vocational programs to spark creative interests.” — Euricka Alugas, founder/CEO at Safe Kit

“Not much is working. Education continues to be the drain of the community.” — Jeff LeSaicherre, owner and attorney at Le Fleur De Lis Title Co. and the LeSaicherre Law Firm

“I think the schools need to go back to teaching basic reading, writing and arithmetic, which are essential life skills. This is enough for the teachers to focus on. Children should be protected from grownup problems, decisions and issues.” — Mimi Dossett, president at Money Hill Plantation

The inaugural edition of the New Orleans 500 is a collection of profiles of the city’s influential, involved and inspiring business leaders. Once a month, Biz New Orleans sends an email survey to all the leaders on the New Orleans 500 list to collect data and insights about topics important to the business community. This is the latest report in that series.

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