Community leaders, educators, parents and policymakers joined together at OPEN on March 5, 2015 for a legislative breakfast and panel discussion on New Orleans education issues.
Representatives Wesley Bishop (District 99) and Joseph Bouie (District 97) sat on the panel, as well as Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) President Seth Bloom. Also in attendance were OPSB members Leslie Ellison and Nolan Marshall, as well as representatives from the offices of Senator David Vitter and Councilmember Nadine Ramsey.
The event also served as an opportunity for OPEN to debut its 2015 Policy Priorities. These priorities serve as the primary conversation drivers throughout the organization’s work each year, as staff works with policymakers and state legislators to achieve critical goals in each area of focus. The organization’s priorities this year are Teacher Quality, Young Black Boys and Men: The School to Success Pipeline, and School Governance and Early Childhood Education.
“We tried to have a discussion about which single issue was the most critical, but every time we tried we came back to these three,” said Thelma French, President and CEO of Total Community Action and head of OPEN’s Policy Committee. “None of them could be pushed back another year. We must embrace, engage and amplify them now.”
The conversation focused on the priority topic areas, with the policymakers taking questions from moderator Flozell Daniels, Jr. of the Foundation for Louisiana as well as the crowd. Other major topics were testing admissions standards for four-year colleges, the need for increased funding for early childhood programs, and data accessibility and transparency in tracking students between schools.
“Selective admission schools are turning away the average Louisiana student,” said Rep. Bouie. “Some may enroll in community college, but only 10 percent of those continue on to a four-year program, let alone graduate. So we lose our young people to neighboring states.”
“Higher education for young men of color is crucial,” said Rep. Bishop. “Students coming out of public schools deserve both access and success. Legitimate avenues for making a living are closed to them. Therefore it’s important to focus on retention instead of admissibility.”
OPSB President Seth Bloom spoke on the board’s plans for the new year, expressing excitement at the leadership of newly-appointed Superintendent Dr. Henderson Lewis and emphasizing the importance of collaboration and cooperation in the process of returning schools to unified control. “I see my role as helping facilitate good relationships with all entities. Keeping lines open with the Recovery School District and educators is the most important thing right now, so we can regain our schools when they are ready,” said Bloom.
Representatives from the Recovery School District and charter management organizations were invited to the panel, but were not able to attend.
OPEN plans to continue its work around the Policy Priorities by collaborating with stakeholders and policymakers to:
- Support community-aligned, culturally competent teacher preparation programs that build an educator workforce capable of authentically engaging New Orleans students
- Take a look at systemic investments that can improve the life outcomes of young Black boys and men by focusing on the critical academic benchmarks of readiness for school at kindergarten, proficiency in reading by 3rd grade, proficiency in numeracy by 8th grade, and high school graduation rates
- Continue to work towards unified governance that gives attention to the oversight and compliance that is necessary to strengthen the district’s ability to meet the needs of all students, and leverage international data (the Early Development Instrument) to guide investments in building quality early childhood systems throughout the city