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Answering the call…

The nation will never forget watching the levees break, the fear and pain on the faces of the people trapped, the destruction, countless lives lost too soon. Ten years ago to the date, a storm, an act of God, broke down almost every system and structure that was supposed to keep the great people of New Orleans safe.

There is no question that those systems and structures were severely flawed and broken before the storm. But one in particular – the traditional public schools – literally had tens of thousands of students falling through the cracks. Before the storm, every effort to bring substantive reform to education was fought and defeated by special interests. At the time, CER was intricately involved with the dozen or so folks locally trying to bring about substantive change.

When news of Hurricane Katrina hit, we were all glued to our televisions in horror, outraged that Americans were suffering because of it. There’s a lot of speculation as to the reasons why – flawed government, brutally failed efforts to evacuate – the list goes on.

On August 29, 2005 I made a phone call. What about the hundreds of families of the dozen or so charter schools we personally knew and worked with – were they safe? Dr. James (Jim) Geiser, the former director of Louisiana Charter School Association, now Senior Program Consultant at University of Georgia, answered the call!

Jim and several charter leaders and families made it to Baton Rouge. If my memory serves me right, a charter operator in Louisiana’s state capital gave them refuge.

I’ll never forget Jim’s words, “It’s all gone… You can’t even imagine the destruction. We’re desperately trying to find students and their families to make sure they are safe.”

I could hear the pain in his voice while he was multitasking to

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Katrina vs. Empire

New Orleans, Louisiana’s (NOLA) education establishment has mounted a fight they hope carries hurricane force winds to the Big Easy, knocking out the careful and successful repair work of the state’s — and perhaps the south’s — worst school system. That system lost everything in the tragic hurricane of 2005, but from the ashes emerged a fresh start for schools, including no interference by a power-hungry school board and unions, as well as relief from tenure and seniority issues that protect jobs often at the expense of kids.

Next month’s elections will decide the fate of 11 positions on the state board of education. Unlike most states, their job is not only to pick a state superintendent who can advocate for or against reforms like the charter schools that gave NOLA a fresh start or the path-breaking voucher program that now helps thousands with private education, but also pick a leader who can turn around the state’s most troubled schools. This board and the state super have authority over the Recovery District, and that is why this is such a hot race.

Teacher unions have banded together with the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education to try to return NOLA to a pre-Katrina structure. It’s a pity they still don’t get it. Get involved and publicize the importance of reform-minded candidates to your friends or colleagues in the Bayou. For more information on New Orleans schools, visit: http://educatenow.net/ or http://newschoolsforneworleans.org/index.php.

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