More than 50 workers, parents, and members of Step Up Louisiana held a rally on Thursday evening before marching to the final Orleans Parish School Board meeting of 2019 to demand change.
New Orleans is the only all-charter school system in the nation – a venture that many legislatures in both the city and state have touted as a success for school choice. But in spite of standardized test scores being generally up since before hurricane Katrina, 35 of the city’s 72 schools (a whopping 49 percent) scored a “D” or “F” grade for 2019. And the majority of those low-scoring schools serve primarily Black children.
Step Up Louisiana members, along with the parents and workers attending last night’s rally, believe that lack of quality education is directly related to New Orleans’ issues with income inequality and underemployment. In the greater New Orleans Metro Area, the median yearly income for Black families is only $26,819. Meanwhile, the median yearly income for white families is $62,074.
One way parents want to rectify this situation is by returning to a Sustainable Community School model. While the corporate charter school model closes failing schools rather than working to improve them, the Sustainable Community School model focuses on expanding supports for local schools.
It’s a model championed by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS), a group that includes the Alliance for Educational Justice, American Federation of Teachers, Annenberg Institute for School Reform, the Center for Popular Democracy, the Gamaliel Network, Journey for Justice Alliance, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Education Association, the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign, and the Service Employees International Union. According to the group’s website, other elements embraced by the Sustainable Community School model include:
- Engaging, culturally relevant, and challenging curriculum that includes a broad selection of classes in the arts, languages, and ethnic studies. This is combined with robust AP and honors programs, special education services, and services for English Language Learners.
- Prioritizing high-quality teaching over high stakes testing. While assessments are used to ensure student progress and to help teachers better understand the needs of their students, educators are given more of a voice in their professional and curriculum development.
- Wrap-around community supports such as access to health and eye care and mental health services that are often overlooked in poorer communities. Recognizing access to physical and mental health care as pivotal to a student’s success, these services would be available before, during, and after school for the entire community.
- Positive discipline practices and restorative justice initiatives that greatly reduce or eliminate the need for suspensions or other harsh punishments. Instead, emphasis is placed on treating trauma and stress, as well as providing social and emotional learning supports.
- Parent and community engagement recognizing that the success of a community school is tied to that community’s development. Therefore, schools will encourage full community participation in decision-making and planning.
“Stop blaming the poor people because you don’t want to do your job,” Step Up Louisiana and Erase the Board Coalition member Armtrice Cowart said. “Do your job. Run schools. We want our community schools back.”
Workers from across New Orleans also joined in the rally, with demands such as equal pay for equal work for women, support of the “ban the box” initiative to end employment discrimination against those with arrest records, and a $15 minimum wage.
After the rally, which was held in the parking lot of the Dollar Tree on General DeGaulle, participants marched while chanting “Whose Schools? Our Schools!” They then entered the school board meeting and stood in silent protest.
Jenn Bentley is a freelance journalist whose work has also been featured in publications such as Wander N.O. More, The High Tech Society, FansShare, Yahoo News, Examiner.com, and others. Follow her on Twitter: @JennBentley_