July 14, 2020

But seriously folks, leadership

If you missed it, let me catch you up.

Two days ago Dr. Andre Perry wrote a piece in Hechinger arguing in support of a bill that would place successful schools in New Orleans under the governance of the dysfunctional Orleans Parish School Board.

I countered with a piece pointing out the OPSB’s long record of fraud and infighting.

Yesterday, Perry returned with a blog post that reduces concerns about the OPSB to “hateraid” (a substance known to cause irrational hatred and reckless jealousy).

So there you have it, you’re up to speed on our exchange, and you even learned a hood word that was old when Cleopatra was young. This is good theater. It is not a good display of our intellectual gifts.

The fight for a better New Orleans, one that finally serves the needs of marginalized New Orleanians, requires we punch from a higher weight class. Even without a doctorate, I’ll do my part.

Here is the basis of Perry’s argument:

Let’s be clear, the nearly three years it took to hire the latest superintendent speak to how far the New Orleans School Board has to go to engender the confidence required to begin talking about a return of schools. Not controlling specific schools’ admissions and enrollment processes to make them consistent with other public schools is also a problem for the Board. However, bringing up the Board’s pre-storm failings to suggest it hasn’t changed reflects the type of denial (haterade) that skeptics on all sides need to rid themselves of if New Orleans is going to continue to improve.

The most brazen flaw here is the peevish insistence that the OPSB troubles are old news and their accomplishments are now greater than their difficulties. No one who attends board meetings, watches the board closely, or talks to board members separately about their work believes its all good now. No amount of happy talk or literary cologne will change that reality.

Without belaboring the point, 15 hours ago it was reported Ira Thomas, the OPSB member who recently resigned due to criminal charges, plead guilty to a federal charge of bribery.

15 hours ago.

Not that long ago it was another OPSB member, Ellenese Brooks-Simms, in the spotlight for a fraud.

Perry himself admits it took the board three years to hire a permanent superintendent because of dysfunction.

These are post-Katrina realities. What Perry sees as history is now and it looks eternal.

Yes, we should applaud the board for finally hiring a superintendent (especially one who looks like the real deal). We should take note of their improved financial ratings too. We should find the diamonds in the dung.

I’m less likely to glow over how great OPSB schools are if those successes stem from screening out kids with low test scores through selective admission processes. What if every school in America decided to improve itself by establishing enrollment criteria that required high test scores for admission? Would we crow about their success?

New Orleans has always had schools that screened out poor kids to create enclaves for the black elite and the sons and daughters of bankers and doctors. I know what the other side of that coin looks like having attended schools for the other people.

Given all that we know it just makes sense to demand exceedingly high standards for ethical behavior, civic responsibility, and executive competence. We can surely get to a much better place than we’ve ever been, but not by glossing over what has historically prevented us from achieving the world we want.

On the way there, we should be cheerleaders for the most vulnerable kids and their families. They are currently being served in schools that are making gains and succeeding without relying on selective admission to weed out kids with lower test scores. These schools have the opportunity to voluntarily return to the OPSB portfolio but see it in their best interest to stay put in the Recovery School District. Why would we override the leadership of successful people on the ground in schools actually serving kids everyday? Why support any plan to abruptly and forcefully upset their work?

The real leaders of education are the people who are actually getting the job done on behalf of marginalized students and families. Were they desirous of an immediate return to the OPSB this would be a different discussion. From what I can see they are not. They want to stay where they are and stay on track. I have to respect that for now.

If that constitutes “hateraid” then slap the word on a t-shirt and I’ll rock the hell out of it.

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