AGAINST ODDS, NEW ORLEANS SCHOOLS FIGHT BACK
By ADAM NOSSITER
(This article is part of TIMES EXPRESS. It is a condensed version of a story that will appear in tomorrow’s New York Times.)
c.2008 New York Times News Service
NEW ORLEANS — No road leads to George Washington Carver Senior High School here. It sits on no street and has no address. No sign announces it.
It is little more than a collection of prefabricated steel-and-wood classrooms floating in a no man’s land by the highway, and its vague location and bootstrap atmosphere sum up the problems and promise of the big education experiment now under way in this city nearly three years after Hurricane Katrina. There is no gym and no auditorium at Carver, and at breaks the school’s 350 students congregate on unshaded strips of concrete between the trailerlike boxes.
Carver’s only context is ruin — it sits across a field from the flooded-out pre-Katrina Carver High — and yet it is trying all over again, with new teachers and new methods, at what largely failed before the storm and immediately afterward: educating its students. Carver High is hope’s challenge to bleak circumstance.
And it is beginning to meet that challenge. Though there is disorder in many classrooms, there is also learning going on, amid the struggle. In an English class taught by Courtney Stuckwisch, the searing hard-times images of a Langston Hughes poem touch a chord, and the students look up eagerly. In Colleston Morgan’s social studies class, students beetle earnestly over textbooks for a lesson on supply and demand.
All around the city there is a similar would-be alchemy. Dozens of new charter schools, a flood of idealistic young teachers from elsewhere around the country — now as many as 17 percent of the total here — and a hard-charging reform superintendent from Chicago are all arrayed to rescue one of America’s most needy student bodies, which ranked at the bottom of a bottom-dwelling state even before Hurricane Katrina.
Only in the last year, with the marshaling of new forces, has anything like a coherent post-storm strategy for the shaky schools here emerged. It is too early for results — standardized-test scores are out in May — but educators here insist that there are some promising signs. At the very least, early shortages of teachers and space for students have been overcome. Schools with names that reflect the overwhelmingly black student body (Akili Academy, Sojourner Truth Academy) are now competing with one another for students, clamoring for recruits by way of signs on the grassy medians of this city’s broad avenues. Veteran school principals, used to the slumbering ways of the old system, are removed quickly if they do not measure up.
"There’s a recognition that it matters who’s in the building," said Sarah Usdin, founder of a nonprofit here, New Schools for New Orleans, that is playing a leading role in formulating policy. "They have to perform."