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How we got here: New Orleans education and Nola 180

Editor's Note: New Orleans education is, and has been, in a place of transition. Post-Katrina a massive influx of charter schools came into the city, and there has been a lot of concern over the charter schools' success rates as well as their lack of requirement that their teachers be certified instructors, which is the case in the public school system.  Yet, the past of New Orleans public schools has been one of a defeated struggle when it comes to helping students reach academic standards. One program, Nola 180 (which has been "replaced" by FirstLine Schools) was in this battle right after Katrina, and here is the story.

Nola 180 is an education reform group with the goal of transforming New Orleans' failing public schools into successful charter schools. They believe that the public-to-private change will result in a student population that is better prepared for high school, college, and the world beyond education.

They strive to cultivate a "love of learning" as one website (Indeed.com) describes as well as a sense of "personal and community responsibility" that will continue serve as a cornerstone of discipline for the rest of their lives. Though the education will be more rigorous [than in the past], according to their Charter School Application, they believe that the students are both capable of overcoming the difficulties as well as deserving of the increased opportunities that it will bring them.

New Orleans, pre-Katrina, was known for having the lowest performing schools in the nation. In 2005, it was confirmed that less than 45% of this city’s high school students taking the Louisiana Graduate Exit Exam demonstrated proficiency in four major subjects: Math, English, Science, and Social Studies. Half of the public schools located in New Orleans were known as “academically acceptable” and less than half of New Orleans public school students decided to graduate from high school.

Hurricane Katrina made this situation a lot more difficult as its effects caused people to become displaced from their homes from the flooding that devastated the city. After the damage was repaired and some people were safely moved back into New Orleans, people were left without any schooling for five weeks or even up to the next school year.

On December 12, 2006, Nola 180 submitted its Charter School Application in response to all of these facts to try to address the need to change the educational system in New Orleans. Nola 180 then opened a college preparatory school called Langston Hughes Academy for the 2007-2008 school year. This opening has dramatically changed the schooling system for kids living in this city and it gave students hope.

Nola 180 offers a college-prep curriculum and features an extended school day. Each student receives 50% more instructional time than an ordinary public school. There are various activities offered at the school, such as out-of-state field lessons that aim to help students achieve their goals in a work friendly environment. To help benefit people with special needs, Nola 180 created a division that allows these students to participate in specific programs, such as the IEP Team. These staff members help identify which students contain disabilities and assist with accommodations, ensuring that the students with disabilities do all the same activities as other students.

The program also provides homeless students with after-school activities, they provide transportation for students who need it, and each student is paired with a faculty advisor, who remains in close contact with the student and their guardians. These advisors schedule weekly visits to the student’s home or shelter to see if the student has proper safety in their respective homes and to help make recommendations to the Social Services department in New Orleans if they are not given the proper care or safety that a person should have.

Ensuring that enrichment is also part of their goals, Nola 180 has a special branch for students who are in the 94th percentile on internal assessments and the Stanford-10 test at the beginning of each school year.  These students will have increased difficulty in their classes, meaning that their questions that they are asked to solve will become a lot harder than the average student. These students will be pushed towards success if they are advancing in this specific program. This program does not contain a large number of students.

And how long are the days? Nine hours. That's from the beginning of school to the extracurricular activities, such as Karate, art, flag football, basketball, math club, poetry, chess club and tutoring for students that need extra help for their classes. Nola 180 is not alone in their endeavors to successfully increase the success of students in New Orleans' school system, but they have not stood the test of time (having been "replaced" by FirstLine Schools). Here are a few other vanguards that jumped into the educational pot post-Katrina.

1. Success Preparatory Academy (http://successpreparatory.org)
2. North Rampart Community Center (http://www.northrampartcommunity.com)
3. New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (http://www.nocca.com)
4. Our School At Blair Grocery Inc. (http://schoolatblairgrocery.blogspot.com)
5. Ben Franklin High School (http://www.benfranklinhighschool.org)

Kelley Crawford is a professor, writer, mentor, dancer, and constant questioner. If you would like to contact Kelley Crawford, you can email her at kelley@nolavie.com.