Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Education in the "New" New Orleans

Like many of my neighbors, I've invested a huge amount of time and work over the past 10 months to try to rebuild a better New Orleans. I've focused my energies on the neighborhood in which I live, Mid-City. It's a great neighborhood, and pretty famous. It's where Louis Armstrong was born after all. But what I love most about it is that Mid-City represents a microcosm of what I love about New Orleans, or namely, it's what the locals would call "gumbo", but outsiders would refer to as "mixed". It's mixed income with million dollar houses next door to $500 per month rentals, at least that was the case before Katrina. I think it would be challenging to find a rental today for under $1000. Slightly more than 70% of the residents of Mid-City before Katrina were renters, and 1/3 of the population lived in poverty. I hope the "New" New Orleans has more homeowners, and I certainly would like to see less people living in poverty. Mid-City before Katrina was also mixed racially, being about 65% African American, 25% European/Caucassian, and 10% Hispanic. Those numbers have changed dramatically since Katrina, but I'm hopeful that more of my African American neighbors in the Diaspora will be able to return.

In our recovery, I believe that improving public education will be key. To meet this end, I've been working hard with the Education Committee of the Mid-City Recovery Plan. We're trying to improve the two public schools which have reopened in Mid-City: Warren Easton Charter High School and Dibert Elementary. I've also been working with the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization to charter Dibert Elementary. Currently it is being run by the state's Recovery School District, and I believe that we could do a much better job. I would like Dibert to be the sort of school that people want to move to Mid-City just so their kids can attend the great school. Dibert used to be that way, but it really declined in the 80's and 90's. I hope in the "New" New Orleans, we won't settle for poor performing schools. We need more community involvement. I'm also by-and-large against "charter" schools as I believe they are elitist. However, the school board for Orleans Parish public schools has been quite incompetant, and the state is nearly as bad, and so we're left with charters being the only chance of hope for the time being. I see it as a good first step to create more community involvement in the schools, and to increase the number of quality schools in the city.

I've also been working to get a new public library in Mid-City. We used to have one until 1958 when that branch closed. The city's chief librarian, Geraldine Harris, has been very supportive of our efforts. It looks like we're going to have success on that end, and put a temporary branch at 320 N. Carrollton for 3 years, and then hopefully we'll have the funds to create a permanent branch. My friend Bart and I have been working on a Mid-City library fundraiser called Boozocracy. We're meeting with some professional fundraisers tonight to talk about ways to do boozocracy and other fundraisers better to make this dream a reality. It is exhausting and an emotional rollercoaster, but in the end I hope that we can make a difference.

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