Broad Academy and Broad Residency participants are drawn to urban locales where they can help dramatically improve public schools and deliver a great education to underserved students. Nowhere is that more evident than in Louisiana and specifically New Orleans, which in the decade since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina has drawn 38 Broad Academy and Broad Residency alumni to rebuild schools and provide high-quality educational opportunities to the students and families of New Orleans and statewide. Working with committed educators across the city, Broad Academy fellows and Broad residents have supported New Orleans schools to reach new heights of academic achievement—and a new commitment to equity across the school system.
From demanding higher standards on the floor of the state capitol in Baton Rouge to supporting the hard work in classrooms in the heart of the Treme neighborhood, the Academy and Residency alumni profiled in the following pages are committed—like educators across New Orleans—to an ethos of continuous improvement. For Louisiana State Superintendent John White, that means no more failing schools and a career credential or college credit for all graduates. “No one,” White said, “should graduate without their diploma leading to a next step.” For Broad residents Michael Stone and Naressa Cofield, both of whom work to support schools in the city, that means making sure school leaders and teachers can focus on what matters most—students.
And for Patrick Dobard, it means improving and fully implementing an equity agenda. Dobard serves as superintendent of the Recovery School District (RSD), created in 2003 to oversee the transformation of the lowest-performing schools in Louisiana. Today, the RSD holds its 68 public schools accountable for academic performance and equity, but leaves operations and decision-making to the schools. Dobard’s work is making the RSD a model for districts everywhere. The district now requires a hearing before students are expelled, providing students and families with the opportunity to partner with the RSD and schools to identify and address underlying needs. Through comprehensive supports and services, like mental health care, the district ensures students continue to pursue their education and start on a path to success.
Dobard, Cofield, Stone and White join many other educators from the Academy and Residency in creating improved educational opportunities for New Orleans students, from expanded access to pre-K to achieving college and career readiness.
“My first day was the perfect snapshot of the work. I had a press conference formally announcing me as superintendent. We arranged to have it at the neighborhood high school in the 7th Ward that three of my six brothers and sisters graduated from. When the RSD took it over, it was the lowest-performing high school in the city of New Orleans. The room was packed. When I got to the school, a young man was waiting to escort me to the press conference. I walked up and I said who I was, ‘I’m the new superintendent.’ And he just stopped. He looked at me in shock. So as we walked to the library I struck up a conversation. I found out that he was surprised because I was a black man. He couldn’t reconcile all these people in the room for a black man about to oversee the schools. In his mind, a black man being in a position of power and permanence, of being the focus of something, was not something he was used to. I went to the press conference, and I didn’t use my prepared remarks. I spoke to that. I said I want to move our schools so that kids would not be shocked that the superintendent is a black man. It should be the norm for our young black men and women to be succeeding at high levels.
“I get in my car to go home. Fifteen minutes into the drive, my chief of staff calls and says, ’Turn around, a gunman ran into one of our schools.’ It’s chaos. We can’t find him. They’re trying to get kids out of the building. There’s 50 police cars, flashing lights, streets blocked off, people standing in the medians—or the neutral ground as we call them in New Orleans—trying to figure out parent pick up. That was my introduction to the police chief of New Orleans. We met on the neutral ground. He gave me his cell phone. He knew what he was doing. I jumped in and tried to help. It was a long evening. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is my first day.’
“We must be intentional about giving hope to minority and impoverished kids. That’s our No. 1 goal. From the student who ushered me in to the press conference to the gunman, who was a young black man, we need to give them hope. A black man in charge should be normal. And it shouldn’t be accepted that the gunman is a black youth. We have to transform our system. And you have to plan for the unexpected. If you think your first day is shaking hands and hugging kids, mine was a bit grittier and a bit more like the challenging and complex New Orleans that I grew up in. It’s exciting and hopeful. But it can also be extremely depressing because of some ills that still plague our society. My job, it teaches me, don’t get too high when things are going well and don’t get too low when there are challenges. Embrace all of those feelings and use them as a catalyst to make a difference for our youth, every day.”
Choice Foundation – Exemplary Public Charter Schools
“I am most proud of rolling out systems that remove the inefficiencies of schools so every second is spent on teaching and learning. Before we implemented these systems, it was very difficult for anyone to assess how students were progressing.
“Teachers would have their grade books and attendance rosters, but were required to contact multiple people if a student was absent. Sometimes they were successful, but unfortunately, many times they were not.
“Now everyone has access to every piece of information, and everyone who is responsible for supporting students can act on that information. For example, all of a student’s teachers know what a student knows and can do and what needs re-teaching. Social workers are immediately aware of absences and can intervene before students are truant. Interventionists know which students need targeted support and what to focus on. Our speech therapist can run a report to identify students in need of speech services instead of waiting for a teacher referral. School leaders can identify areas where teachers need coaching and support. We can provide access to real-time student performance data that empowers families to provide at-home support. It makes me so happy to know that everyone vested in the success of our schools can respond to the needs of our students and teachers. I dislike inefficiencies, and I dislike paperwork, so I am really happy to be able to do this work.”
“On a school visit, I knelt down next to a young lady in fourth grade. I said, ‘What’s your name, young lady?’ She said, ‘My name is Kenyetta.’ I said, ‘What are you doing?’ She said, ‘We’re plotting lines on a graph.’ I looked at it and I said, ‘Is it hard?’ She said no. And I said why. And she said, ‘Because it’s easy.’ I said okay, alright. So I started to walk away and she tugged on my sleeve and said, ‘I can do harder work. I want to do harder work.’ I turned back around and knelt back next to her and said, ‘Well, why aren’t you doing it?’ And she said, ‘Because no one ever asked.’ Our job is to ask.”
New Schools For New Orleans
“The first school I visited in New Orleans was in the fall of 2010. It was really struggling with behavior, the quality of instruction, teacher supports. But they were committed to getting better. I went back last year and it was completely transformed. It’s the same school leader—he stuck it out. He kept fighting to make the school better. He has been relentless. You could feel the warmth between kids and teachers. The school was calm and orderly, but it had that hum and that buzz that schools have when they’re working well. The list of schools that have felt like that is so long.”