Thursday, August 25, 2005

Race & Lusher Elementary

Race has become a very divisive topic in New Orleans over the past year. On December 31st, 2004, an African American college student died at the hands of some white bouncers at Razoo's Nightclub on Bourbon Street. Allegedly the altercation started when the student was stopped for a dress code "violation." Several subsequent studies revealed that on Bourbon Street a double standard applies to dress code and drink prices: whites were much less likely to be stopped by bouncers for dress code "violations" and they were charged less for drinks. Then the new District Attorney, Eddie Jordan, who is an African American, was found guilty of racial discrimination when he fired many white employees after taking office. Even our mayor, Ray Nagin, commented at length about racial divisions in April.

At the moment, the debate about race has centered on the fate of the Lusher schools. Lusher Elementary is a great school. My wife, Therese, used to teach there, though now she is a reading specialist at Audubon. But our daughter goes to school at Lusher, and our son will go there next year. But in the eyes of many in New Orleans we are elitists and contribute to a new form of racial discrimination and segregation. New Orleans public schools' students are about 98% African American. But at Lusher, African Americans make up only 50%, whereas whites are 40% and "other" are 10%. It’s not easy to get your kids in to Lusher. They take all children that live in their surrounding area, but it is not easy to buy real estate or afford the rents in their uptown neighborhood. Most of their students do not live in the Lusher neighborhood. It is a magnet school, and great test scores aren’t enough, as there is a long waiting list and even a “lottery” they use to decide who gets it. But honestly, it’s New Orleans, and nepotism and connections are the main criteria. Some of the richest families in town send their children to Lusher, politicians do likewise, and even the former school president Anthony Amato's children go there. Most of the faculty at my university send their children there.

Lusher tried last spring to open a high school, but there were some allegations that they didn’t go about doing this by the proper channels. The school board voted them down. Now the parents at Lusher are upset and are trying to change Lusher’s status so it would become a charter school, not having to take direction from the school board. Therese is in favor of Lusher becoming a charter school. She is not alone. Of the 948 votes cast by parents, 921 were in favor of becoming a charter. But I’m against it. I believe this move is motivated by retaliation. Lusher will get the high school they want in time, and I see parallels between becoming a charter with what happened to public education following desegregation. Here in the South, when the federal government ordered desegregation, whites fled to the suburbs and placed their children in private schools. The result is that New Orleans public schools are among the worst in the country. People have the attitude that their tax money should not be spent to educate these poor people who will be doing manual labor the rest of their lives. I wanted to fight the system. We live in the heart of New Orleans, in Mid-City, and purposely placed our children in public schools. We want to fix the problem and not run from it. I see this move to become a charter school as just another example of white people selfishly running away from a problem about race. But I'm not about to pull my children out of Lusher. I believe it is my job as a father to provide for them the best education they can get. But I do believe that if we could just do away with private and magnet schools that education in New Orleans would improve dramatically. Suddenly there would be many parents at all of the public schools who took a keen interest in education.

There are two great articles on the topic of Lusher. One is by local columnist Chris Rose, who discusses New Orleans' "culture of failure," and the other by professor Rodger Kamenetz.


Editor B said...

Interesting stuff... You seem to be saying we should "nationalize" the private schools. (Not exactly the right word -- what would you call a state/city/parish takeover?) You radical leftist!

Anonymous said...

Is there a Lusher message board since the hurricane? We need to get one together so we can keep up with the "family"........any ideas??

Lusher mom

Anonymous said...

I found your comments informative. We are moving into New Orleans coming from St.Tammany Schools and have been told Lusher is a great school. I am a little concerned about the process of getting in though. Our daughter's scores and grades are very high. She is biracial. How will her race play into account of whether she is accepted or not? Any insight for a newcomer with no connections?

Michael Homan said...

You should write my wife Therese Fitzpatrick, who used to teach at Lusher, and now teaches at Audubon elementary. Her contact info is

Anonymous said...


I know I am over a year late on this issue, but I just so happened upon your blog while checking on the opening of Lusher Extension at Fortier's campus.

It is very interesting to read your perspectives and I could not agree with you more. Of course my agreeance with you is most probably rooted in the fact that I am African American. I have four children at Lusher, and I wouldn't dream of sending them *anywhere* else - including private schools.

However, I constantly feel guilty about having my children there, knowing that they are benefiting and being educated on the backs of their poorer and less fortunate bretheren. But to echo what you said, my first priority is giving my children the best education possible.

My oldest daughter is now entering 9th grade - she will now be moving to the Extension, as I said earlier. The fact that they have "stolen" Fortier High School infuriates me to no end. Fortier High School has been there FOREVER - they have a very rich history, and in the blink of an eye it no longer exists. Of course Katrina had a lot to do with it, but even before all of the water was drained out of the city, the greedy Lusherites swept down like vultures and swiped Fortier's campus away.

Now, Tulane, and other private entities are stepping up and throwing millions of dollars (literally) at Lusher to help them clean up, refurbish, and outfit that campus like it hasn't been in quite some time.

Where was all of this help and money when "Fortier" was Fortier - and poor, predominantly black, children roamed the halls?

It makes me sick.

But the good parent in me has muzzled the outraged, civil rights part of me, so I grin and bear it.

My apologies for the long rant - especially since it is over a year after your original post.

Anonymous said...

Hello to all the Lusher family. I too am a mother of a lusher student. My son has been there since 1st grade and we had no connections to get there. We do not live in the district and my son was not a "lottery winner". He is there because of my hardwork and effort of educating him prior to entering Lusher. I am not bragging on myself nor my son's intelligence, but Lusher was the supplement to my son's education from me not vice versa. I, like everyone else had heard of the "good schools" and Lusher was one of them, so I decided my son would attend one of them. I am the product of a public school education in New Orleans and I have done quite well for myself in life.
Unlike, so many other African American parents I have been able to obtain a college degree, work and educate my son as a single parent. It is a blessing to be able to attend your child's PTA meetings and report card conferences. It is a misconception of our citizens that the parents of public school kids in Orleans parish don't care about their children because they don't get involved in the school. Factually, most of our residents are the working poor, as Katrina revealed to the world. It's hard to be at a PTA meeting and even a report card conference when you have to be to work for 6am via RTA and you don't get off until 2:30pm or later and have to get home via RTA, as do so many of our parents that are a part of the Orleans parish public school system.
I totally agree with Michael and the mother that speaks of the "stealing of Fortier". I did not vote for Lusher to become a Charter school before Katrina. I also feel that all of the businesses that are willing to put their money into charter schools could have just as well adopted a public school and bought supplies, textbooks, equipment etc. But of course that was if they truly wanted to help everyone.
I tried to get my son to change schools. Once I became a part of the "Lusher Family" and really observed what was going on in "our house" I did not like it. Oh, and by the way our "family" don't really know or care about the members or the poor members I should say because if they did, families would not have to pay for their children to participate in after school activities (don't schools, even charter schools get money for recreational activities such as sports, I'm looking into it), there would be transportation available for those kids' parents that don't have a car and there would be a lot of other things in place, the list is too long to put it in this blog.
I was willing to put my son in Alice Hart which is our district school, but he had become attached to his friends and wanted to stay at Lusher. That was fine because stability is very important in a childs life. However, he will not continue on through high school because I want him to know the real world and be able to handle it. I don't want to subject him to the same people for 11 years of his life and then off to college where it will be a completely different world entirely. The high school is not a bad thing but the way in which it has been created is. I do not feel guilty about my son being there and I will not be muzzled, but for the sake of my son (officials do take matters out on the children and so do some parents of other students) I do not publicly criticize the school using my identity, but I will continue to research and investigate the practices of the school administration and the policies they are trying to establish. I feel like my purpose it to be there for those who aren't and to make sure that the unprivaleged kids aren't looked over.
And for that parent that is calling Michael a radical leftist-- you are one of the people that are in this school that have an agenda of your own obviously. Your interest is not for all of the so called "Lusher Family" but for you and yours. Oh and I guess that makes you a radical rightest. But please remember that what goes on in the dark will always come out in the light. This is about our children not your political views or party.
A mom that's watching

Anonymous said...

Oh, so as long as you aren't happy with the school, you can continue to send your child there and it's okay, and those of us who send our kids there, but aren't as upset are 'bad.' Hmmm

I too do not like the way in which Fortier High School was taken over, but I do not decry the demise of an institution that educated few. Those kids were being cheated there.

As for Mr. Homan, saying that Lusher 'would get its high school in time' is ludicrous. In the meantime, how many kids who didn't qualify for Franklin would be forced to go to a Fortier-type school.

And for all of you posters, since WHEN did a 40 percent white school become a WHITE school?

This is one of the FEW schools in NOPS that IS like the real world, with black and white working and learning TOGETHER.

Michael Homan said...

Dear Anonymous, your comment sounds to me like "America: Love It or Leave It." I don't think any Lusher parent is bad. I think the overall system suffered when Lusher opened its Middle School. Instead of quality neighborhood schools with a mixture of students with and without resources, now students with resources go to charter schools such as Lusher, and students without resources are more screwed than ever. The achievement gap needs to end. That's all I'm saying.

Anonymous said...

Um, Mr. Homan, what world did you live in?

What fine neighborhood schools existed in N.O. at the time Lusher expanded to a Middle School that were destroyed?

The one school that had lasting damage was McMain Middle, but it didn't have to be that way. Lusher was a main feeder for that school and that dried up. Are you contending that there weren't enough good students to continue McMain's fine tradition?

Are you presuming a similar fate for Ben Franklin High, since Lusher was its main feeder?

If you closed Lusher, Franklin, Audubon and Hynes tomorrow, no other public school would reap the benefits because most of those kids would leave the parish or go to a private school (I know my kids would).

It is a chicken and egg proposition. The other schools won't get better until they get better students but they won't get better students until they get better.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation did a study that showed that it was extremely difficult to turn around a failing school, but much easier to start a new school with a new name and new reputation, even if many of the old students migrated to the new school.

It's hard to turn around a reputation. The Saints have managed to do it, maybe Mr. Vallas will have some luck.

I've just never seen a school system in America where it was treated as public welfare. There are people in this city who believe that only the poor have a right to a free public education in N.O.

Look, I'm far from rich, but I can't send my three kids each to $5K a year schools and Fortier-type schools fail me on three levels.

1-they don't offer the advanced classes my children need, 2-they don't offer the diversity of student body that my children need and 3-they don't offer the level of safety that my children need.

Lusher's middle and high school has gotten off to a bit of a rocky start. THey don't have enough staff yet to fill the ancillary positions a high school requires. I am closely following Hannah's story and feel there just has to be more to it than meets the eye, though I could be wrong.

Michael Homan said...

Hi again Anonymous, I of course live on earth, as do you. I'd bet that in the end we agree on more than we disagree, but for now...
Let me give you a concrete example. Dibert Elementary is a school in my neighborhood. It was an excellent school for some 75 years. When Lusher Middle School opened, many of the parents with connections, resources, and a higher-than-average level of involvement in their kid's education pulled their children out of Dibert and put them in Lusher. This immediately created a system with a very high concentration of haves at Lusher and have nots at Dibert and other schools. Imagine what would happen to LSU if one year all the students with a 3.5 GPA or above left for another school. I've never met anyone who believes that only the poor deserve free quality public education. Of course our society will fail unless we improve public education, not just for those with resources, but especially for those without. And regarding Hannah, I'd advise you to read the T-P article by Steve Ritea on April 30th called "Left Behind?", where he reports on the systematic turning away of students with special needs from all of the charter schools. The problem is widespread.

Anonymous said...

Hey Michael,

My first reply to this thread about people being okay sending their kids to Lusher as long as they felt bad about it, was actually intended for the two posters who kept slamming Lusher but saying they sent their kids there...and not you.

As for magnets, in a system where they didn't exist before, I'm against them. Check out what will happen to JP's schools now that they've gone that way.

However, I really believe that the die is cast in N.O. Eliminate Lusher High and the kids will go to St. Charles or St. Tammany Parish (with their families) or they'll go private. Considering the behavioral issues I hear about first hand from schools like Karr (which is above average), I would have a hard time sending my children there.

In the end I'm hoping for more schools like LUsher High (Audubon is said to be considering one in the future), and more like NO Math and Science and McDonogh 15, which have no admissions to get in, but some level of effort to remain.

Bottom line is that kids and their families, or guardians, need to make SOME effort. I've never met anyone (except maybe someone who inherited their wealth) who has made it in life montearily or otherwise, without some effort on their part.

There is a large segment of the population that believes if we just dump Lusher, Franklin, etc...all of a sudden the school system would improve. I'm here to tell you that isn't the case.

Check out two west bank schools to illustrate my point. Harte and Eisenhower, both are in middle to upper middle class neighborhoods, and in both cases, hardly anyone who lives in their neighborhoods sends their children there.

I'm constantly amazed that some of Lusher's biggest public detractors send their kids, or attempted to send their kids to Lusher.

Look, I'm a realist, Lusher isn't the paragon of moral virtue, but it's student population by race is more like this city than any other. By class, it certainly is not.

It's just that the first line of defense for a child is their parents, when the parents fail, the child is behind the eight ball. Society should try to pick up for the parents, but in N.O., the amount that need picking up is disproportionately large.

I should have to fork out $5 or $6K per year to have my child get a good education.

The only exception I've taken to most of what you've said is saying that Lusher's attempt to get a charter was racist.

After watching every effort to grow a high school get shot down, and after attending Lusher's musical the May before Katrina and seeing black and white kids performing on stage together, holding hands, etc...I made a pledge to do whatever I could to help get a Lusher High so that this kind of interaction could continue.

And, as far as the special eds, this is just one man's take, but I can't see how 75 different schools can all be staffed with experts in ADD, blindness, behavioral disorder, dyslexia, etc.

I know it is the LAW, but there just aren't that many experts to have each one at every school serving a small handful of children.

Perhaps, what was done before Katrina, where several schools shared social workers, etc., could be done.

I'm really not sure why Hannah is being asked not to return. However, if it is due to grades, and the same request is being made of kids without Hannah's issues, then it would seem to be following the school's rules.

If However, these teachers haven't been doing their jobs. I cannot judge a situation I'm only seeing from afar. But, I think one should always err on the side of the child, except and unless it's a situation where in trying to accommodate one child's behavior, many children suffer.

Anonymous said...

Please excuse the typos and grammar errors in the above.

My parents did pay the extra freight and sent me to private school...

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr. Anonymous,

I am writing in response to your comment about Lusher being a feeder school for schools such as McMain. I am a proud African American woman that graduated from McMain thirteen years ago and I did not attend Lusher nor did I know of Lusher. I attended Langston Hughes Elementary which was E.D. White while I was there. I did not know anyone at McMain, I took the test and did extremely well to be admitted. My parents weren't well to do or educated. I did not have the luxury of a computer or a typewriter but yet I was expected to turn in formal assignments typewritten and in a report cover. I remember little things like that because at the time that was a hardship and sometimes my grade would suffer because of it. Like so many other kids that are in that situation I did not talk to my teachers about what I didn't have or what my parents could not afford. However, I worked extra hard to write neatly so that my teacher would perhaps understand that I put effort in writing it, but it did not matter sometimes because some teachers didn't care about what I had access to, if so they would have asked what happened instead of just penalizing me. Unfortunately, there are a lot of kids at Lusher that are in the same situation I was in. For instance, the Lusher letter is only available on the internet now, I wonder how many parents don't have internet access or even are computer literate. Oh, but that's not the responsibility of the educator now is it? The Digital Divide is so real!
Furthermore,there are several other schools that are "good" schools besides Lusher and Franklin. What about McDonough 35, Warren Easton, Karr (which I haven't heard about behavior problems that are overwhelmingly different from other schools-public or private)and even McMain, are they not good or just not "good enough" for some folks' kids?
I would like to know what makes you think that McMain's educational values and the quality of the education that a child receives there is not what it was in the past? Is it because you like so many others think that if the school has more than 70% African American students it is a "bad" school? Have you looked over the curriculum at McMain or sat in any of the classrooms while lecture was going on?
It's thoughts such as these that have the Orleans public school system in such horrible conditions.
It's sad to read your posting (which I must say, I believe to be true) about parents taking their kids to St. Charles or St. Tammany parish because they would rather do that than send their child to any of the other public or charter schools in Orleans parish for that matter.
As an educator at a college institution I have students from all backgrounds and I am no longer surprised to find out that some of my worst students come from the private and catholic school system. I can remember being a new educator and being surprised when the students said that they attended Ursuline Academy, Cabrini, and even Newman for high school because their grades were average or below for some of them. With parents paying 10000.00 and up at those schools, I would have thought that those kids would come into the college classroom over prepared (which has been the case with some students).
The education system in New Orleans is like so many other urban education systems in the U.S. that suffer because of the lack of resources that those schools have.
I am not saying that Lusher should be done away with, but I am saying that everyone should have access to what the school has to offer. What good is it if the school has an equal mixture of races but only a small percentage of the kids can take advantage of all the resources that are there?
The bottom line is that all kids should have a right to a "good" education. Even the have nots that are attending school with so many haves.

Anonymous said...

Michael, thank you for your thoughts on this situation. My son is at Lusher, your wife taught him in first grade. I am one of those outspoken Lusher parents who feels as you do about the Lusher Fortier situation. I am happy to know that I am not alone. When I worked to help the Wright parents keep their school I was thought of as a traitor to Lusher. However, right is right, and wrong is wrong. What has happened to Fortier is wrong. My son will attend school on that site next year. As a parent, I have to do what is best for my child, but my heart breaks for the former Fortier students who were not allowed to come back to their school after the hurricane as our kids were allowed to come back to Lusher. I can't understand how people can ignore the fate of those children. I know for a fact, that some have dropped out of school, others were forced to attend John Mc Donogh, Reed, or Clark. It's not right, Lusher could have absorbed those kinds into the Lusher High School, but did not want those children. There is a special place in hell for everyone involved in pushing those kids out of Fortier. It breaks my heart and I wish there was something that could be done about it.

I received an email about the little girl Hannah, I know of another kid who received a similar letter. This must not be allowed to happen to children. Lusher should not be allowed to push kids out who are having difficulties without at least having record of trying to help the kids. Especially kids who up to this point have been educated solely at Lusher. I think it's time that parents who think as we do get together and discuss productive ways to make Lusher a more fair school.

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Anonymous said...

Ok, I bet you forgot to check your Math. When you quote 98% of students in NOPS are black and then you tried to quantify that number with 50% at Lusher, you my friend are committing STUPID remarks. The City population in 2004 was 58% black, 38% white, and 4% others

Michael Homan said...

To Anonymous above, I stand by my math. NOPS, or New Orleans Public Schools, does not equal the city. While the African American population of New Orleans in 2004 was about 58% as you cite, the African American population at public schools was 98%. Many Caucasian families have their kids in private schools.

Dwayne Fontenette said...
This comment has been removed by the author.