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New Orleans Schools, 10 Years After Katrina: Beacon Or Warning?

Sixth grade students Miracle Roberson, left, Darion James, and Brianetay Martin, right, read during literature intervention class at ReNEW SciTech Academy, a charter school in New Orleans, Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Sixth grade students Miracle Roberson, left, Darion James, and Brianetay Martin, right, read during literature intervention class at ReNEW SciTech Academy, a charter school in New Orleans, Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Anya Kamenetz, NPR

 
NEW ORLEANS (NPR.com) — On Sept. 15, 2005, two weeks after Katrina and the levee breaches, I drove with my parents into New Orleans. It was my 25th birthday.

We used my press pass from The Village Voice to get past a military checkpoint so we could assess the damage to their home near Tulane University. It turned out to be minimal: a few slate tiles off the roof, tree limbs downed, a putrid refrigerator full of rotting food to drag to the curb.

I stayed on as the city blinked back to life in fits and starts. Most public schools remained officially closed for months. New Orleans students descended on schools in Houston and Baton Rouge. Many missed months of classes. Some never went back. Thousands of teachers were pink-slipped.

Makeshift one-room schoolhouses popped up — I volunteered for a few days at one run in a room at Loyola University.

Even as the debris was being cleared, there were those who saw an opportunity. At the time, New Orleans was the second-lowest-ranked district in the second-lowest-ranked state in the country.

“I feel optimistic for these kids from the Orleans Parish school system,” Robin Delamatre, a family friend and a veteran New Orleans educator, told me back then.“These poor children may come from a failing system to a school system that will really support them.”

A decade is a natural moment to pause and look back. Our NPR Ed team spent lots of time over the past school year trying to find out what has happened to the kids from the Orleans Parish school system. Today, that system is, for all intents and purposes, no longer. Almost every student in the city attends a charter, private or parochial school.

 

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