Sunday, December 23, 2007
In the words of one of my favorite songs off Trailer Trash Christmas, "O Christ, it's Christmas again."
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Later Note: We were not very happy when Douglas Marshall of Gulf Coast Construction breached our contract when it got down to the punch list.
Our new sills.
Friday, December 14, 2007
They gave me this receipt and I was on my way:
Later Note: I'm pleased to report that my fellow bloggers Kim Marshall (Dangerblond), Karen Gadbois (Squandered Heritage) , and Mark Mosely (Your Right Hand Thief) are also running (Mark in District B). Check out the list of all the candidates. Vote for us or we'll blog about you and that thing you did in high school that you thought nobody knew about.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Here are a few of the songs off the "Out the Window" album:
Know I In Friend
Out the Window
Six Feet Under
About a week ago I heard from some of the old legends of the Omaha punk scene that there was going to be an Omaha punk reunion concert on March 29th, 2008. After some soul searching I decided that I would be up for coming back to Omaha for this event. In many ways it's like I've lived two lives, one as a punk rocker in Omaha and another as a Theology professor in New Orleans. I put the bass away when I went to graduate school. But it's time to get it out of storage, and so I picked up the phone and called Mark, Jim, and Seth, and they all thought that an Apathy reunion would be pretty cool. So I emailed Tim Cox and now after 20 years, we'll be playing a set in Omaha in just over three months. Other bands playing include RAF, Cordial Spew, The Upsets, The Drunk Cambodian Landlords (A Dead Kennedys Cover Band), and maybe Double-You. The best part will be seeing some old friends that I haven't seen for so many years.
More information about the event can be seen on Tim's Omaha "My Generation" Reunion page or on this yahoo discussion group.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
That surely puts the pressure on his more-famous-blogging 12-year-old sister, who posts at Kalypso The Odyssey. We hear their mom Therese Fitzpatrick also blogs, but we've yet to find it.
It has a picture of a large fire, and the text reads: "For Every Public Housing Unit Destroyed A Condo Will Be Destroyed: If there will be no homes for us, and relief from high rents, there will be no homes for the rich either!" It's signed by the Angry & Powerless. The FBI is investigating the flyer, and even more worrisome for the creator, Dangerblond is on the case.
I have no doubts that the powers that be are using Katrina to do away with the large public housing projects. Many of these units never flooded and they could have reopened in October of 2005. But how do I feel about large concentrations of poverty in the projects versus mixed-income neighborhoods with subsidized rents spread throughout? I don't really know. I do know that poor people need a place to live in New Orleans, and the increased rents have kept many from returning.
update: Laureen Lentz outlines the protest schedule and it looks like many are planning on doing some jail time for their protests.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Monday, December 03, 2007
Later note: A neighbor lampooned Nagin, stating that even knife fights in the cafeteria were a two-edged sword, as it helps to keep the Mid-City brand out there.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Thursday, November 22, 2007
First, thanks to Congress for overriding Bush's veto, and thus authorizing $7 billion to restore our flood and hurricane infrastructure.
Second, thanks to Congress again for passing legislation which included $3 billion to close the gap in the Road Home program, so other families will get assistance like ours did.
Happy Thanksgiving. We are hopeful that next year we'll be celebrating back in our home on S. Alexander Street.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Thursday, November 15, 2007
But being in San Diego is also surreal in that I am a much different person than I was in the year 2000. My life has certainly worked out different from the way I planned. I thought I would wind up at a major division one research institution. I'm overall happy with my job at Xavier, but it's not what I intended. But now the schmoozing at ASOR and the politicking, something I used to enjoy, doesn't seem fun. I know very well the people at this meeting. I've excavated with them, and my family and I lived with them at overseas research centers such as the Albright Institute in Jerusalem and the American Center of Oriental Research in Amman Jordan. There some of my best friends. But now my name has become associated with tragedy because of Katrina. I do appreciate all of my colleagues at ASOR thinking about me and my family. But I hope there is a day when Katrina is a distant memory. I think the first step will be getting back into our house. We're hoping it will be in June or July. Thankfully, Ron Tappy has decided not to excavate this summer at Zeitah, so I'll be in New Orleans anxiously waiting to get my hands on a moving truck. My theory is that I need to be there when we move in. Otherwise, I'll spend the rest of my life looking for things like can openers and scissors because Therese will put them in some illogical drawer. I wonder how crotchety I'll be when I'm 80.
Monday, November 12, 2007
I remember back in 2003 when Audubon Montessori had to close because the building tested positive for lead paint. I wonder why people aren't more alarmed about arsenic in the soil at Dibert, but I have some theories. Parents at Audubon represent a higher socio-economic class than those at Dibert. It's also post-Katrina New Orleans, and things that wouldn't have been acceptible before are not priorities now. But in the end I do hope that we can all work together to make Dibert a safe place for children to learn and grow.
Friday, November 09, 2007
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Two Plastered Skulls from Jericho, Pre-Pottery Neolithic B Period, ca. 8000-6000 BCE.
The Bible also makes reference to building foundations on relatives, but in this case, it is by sacrificing children. For example, Joshua curses Jericho after its destruction, and he says future foundations of the city will be laid "at the cost of his firstborn son" (Joshua 6:26). In the 9th century BCE, this prophecy comes true according to the author of 1 Kings 16:34, as a man named Hiel of Bethel rebuilds Jericho: "He laid its foundations at the cost of his firstborn son Abiram."
After two years of not being able to do anything with our Katrina damaged house, we have begun working on repairing it. First we raised it. Then we've been working on the new foundation. Workers dug the new trench and put down plastic and steel rods. The plastic was to make sure the cement dried slowly, and the steel rods to make the foundation stronger.
At this point, I took some of my family's most treasured pictures, along with a bit of my father's ashes, and put them at the base of the foundation. Here you can see some of the pictures:
Pictures I Put At The Base Of Our New Foundation
I wanted in some fashion to invoke the spirit of my ancestors in this milestone in our recovery. I also wanted to acknowledge that my father and the people in the pictures played a big role in building my foundation. I believe that this will be the house in which we'll finish raising our kids, where we'll one day play with our grandkids, and where eventually Therese and I will die. So the foundation became more to me than just steel and concrete. I made it personal.
Last Tuesday we had the concrete poured, 12 inches above the steel rods. Here you can see Greg Abry near the machine that pumped the concrete through a tube.
Here you can see Mario above the tube where the concrete comes out, and you can see Oscar in the background.
Then the concrete dried, and now they're placing cinder block piers on the foundation, tied to it with metal rods.
Someday soon they'll lower the house onto the piers, and then the major interior renovations will begin. We hope to be back in the house by June 1, 2008. That will be the 17th anniversary of another important foundation, our marriage.
Friday, November 02, 2007
There's a story in the Times-Picayune that Una Anderson accepted not only campaign checks, but actual bribes to bring a lucrative trash school contract to Metro Disposal and Richard's Disposal. There are certainly questions about the reliability of the source, Stan Pampy Barre, who is on his way to jail for his own corruption. But Una, you played a key role in reducing the city's school board from a powerful government entity to a marginalized joke. When you started, the board oversaw more than 120 schools, and now you run 5. So whether or not you're guilty, I look forward to the day when you're out of government.
And to U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, who is heading these investigations bringing light to government corruption, please keep up the good work.
Later Note: Dangerblond covers this better than me. Link. Our own Editor B broke "garbagegate." Well done B and your anonymous source.
Thursday, November 01, 2007
NPR covers this story here.
Thanks to Sue for the depressing lead.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Steve Lopez counters these proposterous comparisons between the CA fires and our flood with this excellent opinion piece in yesterday's LA Times, entitled "Katrina comparisons are a different class of wrong." Amen Mr. Lopez.
Later note: Jeff Duncan with the Times-Picayune wrote this article that appeared on today's front page: No Comparison.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
I recently attended a forum at Xavier entitled "New Media and Community Activism in Post-Katrina New Orleans." The panel consisted of some pretty famous local activists who blog: Brian Denzer, Karen Gadbois (who couldn't make it), Clifton Harris, Mark Moseley, and Maitri Venkat-Ramani. It was moderated by Bart Everson. During the discussion Maitri commented on the fact that it's great that the bloggers and activists are so organized, but where do we go from here? We continue to be kept out of the political and financial battles that shape the city, and the country.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
I'm busy. Of course, I have my job teaching Theology at Xavier, and that is time consuming, as are the many committees that go along with being a faculty member at a university. I have a big role also in the many professional organizations to which I belong, including the American Schools of Oriental Research, where I am co-VP of Program (along with Morag) and the regional secretary. I'm also working with Bobby Duke to implement a Service Learning section to the national meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. Plus I have many publication deadlines on the horizon and overdue. I could also be a better teacher at Xavier if I had more time.
Most of today, as usual, was spent on issues of rebuilding our house. My contractor and insurance agent are feuding, and our new foundation is almost ready to be poured. We are taking out a construction to mortgage loan, and we close on Monday, and that has taken an incredible amount of work. There were big questions that needed answers about termites, plastic, concrete, and footings.
But in doing all of this other stuff to save the world and fix our house, I've neglected my family. My son Gilgamesh has been ill with bronchitis, something that I suffered with every time this year growing up. And Kalypso's grades have been slipping. There was a conference tonight that Therese attended while I was at the meeting. Therese is very busy as a teacher, and usually she gets home at 6:30 PM and is in bed by 8. This is the time that I spend at meetings, and though I wish she would stay up a bit later so we could chat, this doesn't seem too likely. So I feel like I'm spending more time with people interested in education in New Orleans than I do with my family, and that probably isn't a healthy thing.
Tonight I heard several of the pro-charter school lobby on the board talk about how charter schools are better than "traditional" schools in New Orleans. This bothered me on many levels, because there are no traditional schools left. Traditional schools to me means neighborhood schools, where teachers have been there for years, and the same students are enrolled where their older brothers and sisters attended. After Katrina, the New Orleans School Board fired all of the teachers, and no public school in New Orleans has even remotely the same student body as before the storm. Also I don't understand why students at public charters get anywhere from $1000 to $1500 more tax dollars per student than non-charter public schools. Well actually I do understand, as the powers that be want to make charters succeed to get government out of public education, but it's not fair. I'm not anti-charter schools, at least in my opinion, but when I hear so much about how charters are the answer to all of our educational problems, I feel the need to give a voice to the other side. I would honestly bring up the positive aspects of charters if I was surrounded by those adamantly against them. But it was the way that so many charters were forced upon New Orleans without community and parental consultation to which I object. I feel like I'm spinning my wheels, and I could make more of a contribution to the world by going back to what I'm an expert at, biblical studies, instead of trying to fix public education in New Orleans. With all my efforts over the past two years addressing public education in New Orleans, there really hasn't been any tangible improvements that you could say were directly due to my work. With Bobby Jindal as governor, and with the sentiment I sensed at this and other meetings, for-profit charters and school vouchers are in the cards for New Orleans for a very long time. I hope someone pays attention to the students who don't attend charters, that's all.
At times like right now, I miss my pre-Katrina life, in which I spent more time with my family, and I spent the rest in my office writing books and articles about ancient Israel and the ancient Near East.
I am overextended. I am doing many many things, but I am not doing any of them well at the moment.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Monday, October 22, 2007
We've been having quite a bit of fun watching this video by They Might Be Giants about the Mesopotamians, a cool band having a hard time adjusting to modern technology. They also sell these awesome shirts for the extra geeky ancient Near East fans like me and my son Gilgamesh. But my son Gilgamesh thinks that Hammurabi looks cooler than Gilgamesh on the video. I don't agree.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
We tried hard, but did not qualify for $30,000 Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) funds to raise our house because our house was a few inches above the Base Flood Elevation. The Base Flood Elevation is set to change in New Orleans, but by the old model we were slightly above it. Too bad, we thought. We would repair our home and not elevate it.
Then we were so happy from the $30,000 we received from the Road Home to elevate our house. We could have raised it anywhere from 1 inch to 10 feet and not violate zoning laws. We thought long and hard about how high to raise it, and decided it was simple. Our house flooded 3 feet, so why not raise it 3 feet? We would save all sorts of money with flood insurance, and if Katrina happened again, our house would be safe. Plus when the new Base Flood Elevation maps are released, we would probably be just above the suggested level. So Abry Brothers raised our house 4 feet, and when they were finished with the new foundation they would lower it a foot. Here is what our house looks like now, raised 4 feet:
It is obviously higher than our neighbor's houses, but still just as historic, and perhaps even more inclined to be historic in the future as it is less inclined to flood.
Then we received word that we received a $45,000 grant from our Historic Grant application. However, they looked at our house and decided that we raised it too high to be eligible for the grant, because they said we are too high to be historic. Because we have not yet laid the new foundation, and could lower the house, I asked them at what height could our house still be considered historic. If we raised it 2 feet, and so if Katrina happened again, it would flood one foot, but could we still qualify for the $45,000 grant? It would have been a smart financial decision for us to demolish the house and rebuild new. But we felt that we owed it to New Orleans, our neighborhood, and our house, to do what we could to preserve it. It's nearly 100 years old and has so much history and character. So for now we've appealed their decision. But in typical post-Katrina New Orleans, we would have been rewarded if we didn't elevate our house to avoid future flooding.
This is where I shake my head, sigh, and go fill up my wine glass, and wonder at exactly what height is historic, and at what height is it non-historic? Nobody seems to know.
Update (Nov 3, 2007): we can get the grant if we raise the house two feet, and not three. So we'll flood one foot if we get the same type of flood as Katrina again, but we will gladly lower the house to get the grant.
Monday, October 15, 2007
In the mid-90s Bobby Jindal was a senior consultant for the McKinsey Company, an advising firm that helped Allstate raise their profits from $82 million to over $2 billion. They did this by simply telling Allstate to stop paying so many claims. This turned out to be great news for the profits of share holders, but for people like my family who thought we were really insured, it was a pretty immoral strategy. We're still about 10 months to a year from getting back into our home.
The second reason has to do with good-ol-boy racism. When asked about racial conflict in Louisiana on the day that thousands were marching for justice in Jena Louisiana, among them many of my Xavier students, Jindal commented in public: "We don't need anybody to divide us. We certainly don't need outside agitators to cause problems." When I first read rumors about Jindal calling the marchers "Outside agitators" I was admittedly skeptical as to the rumor's validity, as were many. But now we've heard from several sources in Shreveport that it's true. Now I'm even more amazed that the Times-Picayune and other media outlets are giving Jindal a free pass on that one. Isn't the "outside agitators" comment sort of a "Chocolate City" in reverse? I've learned there is a secret coded language of racists in Louisiana. The term "outside agitators" is something that might not sound so bad in South Dakota, but here, it carries much baggage. My African-American students say they know exactly what he meant by that.
Third, Jindal supports school vouchers. If this turns out helping all of the public school students of New Orleans, then I'll even campaign for Jindal in 4 years. But I think it is going to widen the achievement gap.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
The house is at 215 South Alexander Street, New Orleans, LA 70119. Here are the people who have lived here before:
Cathy A. McGrath
S. Lewis Cocke (gets Millsaps College birthday cards in early May)
Trish Wilson and Rick Tippie apparently lived upstairs when it was a double. So did Erma Wright. The upstairs address was 213 S. Alexander. Vera Johnson lived there as well, and I think this might be the same Vera Evans who gets an occasional letter from Delta. Also we get mail from "Missing and Exploited Children" for Michelle Abram.
We bought the house in 2002 from Merlin Gele. He never lived there, but rented it out as a split level double. One person who rented was Denice Hudson. She rented the downstairs. I think Paul Ebanks rented upstairs. His son was named Arzoo I seem to remember. I can't remember his girlfriend's name, but I remember she painted beautiful paintings on windows. Skip Bolen apparently lived at 213 S. Alexander as well.
UPDATE: The 1940 census shows that the house was divided into a double already back then. At 215 were Mercedes Tricon (age 29), a secretary for a wholesale refrigeration company. She was apparently divorced and lived here with her aunt Olivia Stafford (age 45). They had been living here at least 5 years. At 215 1/2 were living Land and Ariene Evans. They were a young married couple who moved here from Mobile, and Alan was a tire and rubber salesman.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
In 2004 we elected seven officials to serve on the Orleans Parish School board. The parish is divided into seven districts, so I voted for one of the seven members that oversaw 117 schools, the largest school district in the state. While I did not vote for her, Una Anderson represents me on that board. In November of 2005, the governor and the Louisiana legislature turned over control of 102 of these schools to the Recovery School District, run by appointed persons, none of whom are elected. Now the Orleans Parish School Board governs five schools, and oversees 12 charters.
On the state level, schools are governed by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). There are 11 members of BESE, 8 of whom are elected by district, and 3 of whom are appointed. All of New Orleans is represented by one representative from the state's district 2. So New Orleans has one vote on an 11 member panel for matters pertaining to most of our schools. Our representative is currently Louella Givens, who is up for reelection October 20th. She often is the one voice of opposition on the board. The vice-president of BESE is Leslie Jacobs, one of the strongest advocates of charter schools, and the primary advocate of the state takeover of New Orleans schools. Jacobs is supporting Ernest Marcelle, Givens' only opponent, because Givens has often voted against the charter school movement. Marcelle, like Jacobs, is in favor of school vouchers. For them, charter schools are the next best thing in this "education as business" model. Like me, Givens is against chartering schools without community support. If my entire Mid-City neighborhood was against chartering schools, or if every person in New Orleans was against charters, we would have a voting voice only for the few schools run by the Orleans Parish School Board.
But now my school board representative Una Anderson is running for a seat on the Louisiana House of Representatives (95th district). Anderson advocates charter schools, even though she is on the Orleans Parish School Board. Her primary platform is to "raise the statewide cap on charter schools and establish a new local governance structure for Orleans Parish schools." I've heard from many people, including the appointed State Superintendant of Public Schools, Paul Pastorek, that the Orleans Parish School Board as it now exists will be short lived. There is talk of a system with an appointed school board rather than an elected one. And our soon to be next governor, Bobby Jindal, also advocates for vouchers and charter schools.
So it might be a good time to invest in for-profit education companies, because New Orleans is open for business.
Monday, October 08, 2007
Thursday, October 04, 2007
After our New Orleans house flooded because the levees broke in 2005, we decided to raise it three feet (that is raise our house, not the levees unfortunately). Thank God for the incredible strength of Gilgamesh and Kalypso. And for the record, Mosey has lost much weight, but sadly, like me, she is still a fatty.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Monday, October 01, 2007
This message board is revealing of the divisions that plague the relationship between Orleans and Jefferson Parish. However, it's most interesting in real time, as editors seem to be removing the anti-Harry Lee comments, as well as some of the most inflammatory "Jefferson is better than New Orleans thugville" material. Much of it I find overtly racist.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Saturday, September 22, 2007
On the front hood there is a map of Louisiana, a hurricane, and the statement that "God Answers Prayers.
There are other statements like "Big Easy," "504," and of course "Katrina." I wonder if this car, a Mercury Grand Marquis, and its spiritual driver are single handedly saving New Orleans. Is it just a coincidence that Tropical Depression 10, forecasted by many to hit New Orleans perhaps as a hurricane, fizzled out and went ashore in Florida? Keep up the good work Katrina car. Our fate is in your hands.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Monday, September 17, 2007
The answer: K-Ville Action Figures. Only 8 hours left until the big premiere that is going to play a HUGE role in the recovery of our city. We need an html sarcasm tag, by the way. We already saw the pilot, and agreed that it wasn't as bad as we thought it would be. Look for our house, Kalypso washing at the end, and Gil playing football in the distance.
Read more in "IRS has bad news on Road Home" by David Hammer in today's Times-Picayune.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
We're told these are St. Joe bricks, from a famous company in Slidell. I'm told they can't make the bricks like we have anymore, as the fires produce too much polution. But 100 years ago when these were made, the fires were a lower temperature and "dirtier," so it caused some very interesting colors in the bricks. We cleaned off the mortar of more than 1000 today and put them in a pile, we're hoping to use them later on our patio. There are many more left in the pile for tomorrow and the upcoming weekends. Then later today, speaking of bricks, I watched Notre Dame continue to look worse than my highschool team. They are 0-3, and haven't scored a touchdown all season. But my mind is really on Nebraska, who is playing the number one ranked USC Trojans in about a half hour. If the Huskers win, then their program is back on top as one of the premier college programs in the country. Plus as lagniappe, if the Huskers win than Lousiana State will be number one. Go Huskers!
I later went back and made the text of "if" bigger, because that turned out to be a mighty big if.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Then we noticed this cleaver blade on the ground:
We called the police and filed a report. The officer was friendly and came right away. He asked if we would be filing an insurance claim, we laughed. He thought maybe it was a weapon that someone was trying to get rid of, and he took it as evidence. I think it was just some neighborhood kid from one of the many backyards who just threw it. In any case, fixing the window is an unwelcomed addition of "things I have to do." Kalypso was gone when it happened, luckily. We're all cleaning up the glass now.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
Postgame note: It turned out to be a very ugly second half, with the Colts dominating all aspects of the game and winning 41-10. It was a clinic. Ugh.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Sunday, September 02, 2007
Saturday, September 01, 2007
The charter movement is dominated in the trenches by progressives, even when we've been represented on the national stage by conservatives.
I think that is accurate. I'm currently on a board trying to charter a school. We met today, and the entire board seemed liberal and progressive, as do most people working to improve our schools through charters. Are we being used? Maybe there is a middle ground where some businesses can profit with charter schools, some schools stay public, and ALL children can get a great public education.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Monday, August 27, 2007
I just finished reading Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time, an excellent book about people who survived the Dust Bowl and the Depression. It continuously reminded me that even though my life in post-Katrina New Orleans is difficult, just about anyone in history would happily change places with me. Moreover, most people in the third world today would probably move to New Orleans if given the chance. So I've been thinking quite a bit about the good things that have happened in my life due to the failure of the levees two years ago. That might seem insensitive to the thousands of people who lost their life in the Federal Flood. But this post is simply meant to be a reflection on a few good things that happened to me because of this tragedy.
The best thing that happened because of Katrina was that we got to spend four months with our family in Nebraska. This was especially nice as my father passed away last February. One Saturday my father and I were even able to attend a Nebraska football game, something we did together regularly when I was growing up. I know our time at that game and being able to visit throughout the four month period meant a lot to my dad. My children were able to spend quite a bit of quality time with their grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles.
After Katrina I also felt that my life was appreciated. After swimming in the flood waters, and escaping from the Causeway Concentration Camp, I posted "One of the Millions of Hurricane Katrina Stories."" I received hundreds of emails and phone calls after that, some from friends I hadn't heard from in more than 20 years. That was nice.
Since Katrina I have been more involved with the world. Much of the time I formerly spent researching the ancient world is now spent trying to improve the modern one. We're engaged in trying to rebuild one of the world's greatest cities. I know my neighbors very well. Before Katrina I didn't know many of their names. That changed in a hurry when you are helping them throw out refrigerators with rotting food, or teaching them how to get meals from Red Cross trucks. We get so excited when we see people moving back into our neighborhood, especially if they have kids.
We plan on being in our flooded house in one year. It's taken a very long time due mostly to problems with insurance. In the end our house will be much better than it was before Katrina, and Therese and I were able to design the remodeling so that it reflects our personalities. We think it will be the house in which we die, that is, if New Orleans doesn't flood again. Therese and I are willing to fight hard to rebuild this city once, but that if we lose our house to a flood again, we'll have to set up our lives elsewhere. But we're optimistic, and practical, as we are raising our house so that it rests above Katrina's high water mark. I would be angry if the politicians and press didn't come down to our city to cover the second anniversary, but I will sure be glad when they all leave. What we're striving for is a return to a sense of normalcy. It's probably still at least 8 years away.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Last night Therese and I went to a wonderful party near the Fairgrounds. It was hosted by a teacher who was probably the first friend we made when we moved to New Orleans, as we put our daughter in the all French program at Audubon Montessori and this lady tutored Kalypso to bring her French up to speed. Like Therese, this lady has taught at both Audubon and Lusher, both of which are now charter schools. So I spent the night listening to dedicated teachers about public education in New Orleans. Everyone I spoke to voiced their frustration about the current model, where charters are hyped as the answer to everything. The teachers described how at a school like Lusher Charter, where they have a principal with vision and a unified board that supports her, the system can work for the students. But at other schools the teachers described situations in which the principal lacked leadership or vision, or much more common, the charter was governed by a board who knew nothing about the school. The board might consist of a neighborhood attorney, a business woman, and a tax specialist who didn't spend much time at the school, and they made poor decisions. These schools are not doing well in New Orleans at the moment. But the veteran teachers also described the gradual process which led to the current racial makeup of the schools. There was a general perception that Caucasian parents were less likely to put up with sub-standard schools, though many admitted that socio-economic background probably played a larger role than race on this issue. That is to say, the more money one had, the more likely they would not tolerate a bad school, and African Americans were more likely to suffer from poverty in New Orleans. Many cited lackadaisical principals. It seems that even one year of bad leadership could doom a great school. Others talked about a misconceived fear held by white parents that their children would be shot at public schools. There was also the sinking ship syndrome, in which if one or two parents pulled their kids out of the neighborhood school and got them into Lusher, then many others would follow for fear that the school declining, thus creating the situation they feared. One veteran teacher desribed how a great high school like McMain Magnet tried to keep its racial diversity by holding to two standards: African American students needed to have a GPA of about 3.4 to get in, but whites only needed around a 2.8. This of course didn't go over well, and it's goal of keeping white students failed, as now McMain has less than 2% Caucasian students, he said.
I continue to believe that the best strategy to improve public education in New Orleans will be to get control of the school board when the elections are held in November of 2008. Currently the Recovery School District is growing larger and more powerful by the week, and they now can't all fit into their large office complex on Poland Ave. This is supposed to be a temporary governing body, not elected but appointed. Actually "hired" is the better term in the current education-is-a-business model. And if we're not careful, all of the schools in New Orleans will be governed by for-profit education companies with no elected officials to hold accountable. So we talked about strategy and vision for a new school board. Everyone felt it would be helpful if the candidates actually went to a public school, as many on the current board did not. It seems the school board in many ways has become a society club where wealthy patrons bestow their bounty on the peasants, much like the elite who ride on Rex and now and then generously throw the big beads. That of course isn't true for all the members of the school board. But back to the "black & white" topic of this post: the new school board, in order to be effective, will need to represent the racial makeup of the New Orleans students which it serves. An all white school board could not be effective, nor could an all African American. The same debate about racial balance is taking place with City Council, as soon for the first time in 30 years, there is a strong chance that both at-large seats will be occupied by Caucasians. So last night these educators gave me many names from the African American community of people I should talk to about coming up with a shared vision for a new school board, and ways to recruit African American candidates. But what if the most qualified candidates are all African-American, or all white, or 50% Hispanic? Isn't the attempt to create a new school board that is racially mixed in many ways analagous to McMain's two-tiered admissions policy? I need to think through all of this.
Friday, August 24, 2007
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Adamo's conclusions are right on the mark in my opinion:
The state has to do several things in order to legitimize its actions. The schools have to be returned to the community in a manner that re-establishes accountability, not run by consultants for the short term and the quick profit. If that means a return to being run by publicly elected officials, that is the price we pay for living in a democracy. Curriculum and services such as security and hot meals should derive from the local population and economy, not be imported via giant education and service corporations. The right of teachers and other school workers to organize and to bargain collectively cannot be denied indefinitely, nor those who attempt to organize such basic rights punished for their crimes. The market drives only to one location: profit. That is a legitimate destination in business. But education, like medicine, ought not operate under the rules and expectations of business.
Friday, August 17, 2007
There is something simple that I can do to better engage students. I need to learn their names. I typically have about 120 students a semester, and since Katrina, I have not forced myself to learn them as I did before. I start "engaging" students, at least in theory, next Thursday. But everyone's watching to see what Dean will do.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
There, I blogged it, now make it happen.
It's not unique to Louisiana. It's just brazen down here. Machine politics in the north will skim the cream. Here in Louisiana, they skim the cream, they steal the milk, hijack the bottles and look for the cow. And it is brazen, the amount of activity down here where people think it's their right as soon as they assume office to steal from the people.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Sunday, August 05, 2007
After nearly two months in Israel, a week in Nebraska, and a few days in Florida, our Toyota Highlander is finally parked in front of our house on S. Hennessey. The longer I live in New Orleans, the tougher it gets to leave here, despite its many problems. After being away so long, it seems many things remain unchanged. Only about 1/3 to 1/2 of the residents in my neighborhood are back, and the schools still need a major overhaul. We continue to suffer under the blunders, incompetance, and corruption of many of our public officials. I feel both rejuvinated and worn out at the same time if that is possible. I think we're about two weeks away from beginning to repair our house. Once we start, it will take about 10 months to a year to finish. I can't wait to get our stuff out of storage and finally move back into our house.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Today is the day I predicted back in March of 2007. In this blog and in an opinion piece for the Times-Picayune, I wrote that the pro-charter lobby would use the LEAP scores to claim charter schools are the answer to improve public education. It turns out that charter schools scored better than Recover School District schools in New Orleans. Big freaking deal. Being that many RSD schools had 40 children in a classroom whereas charter schools were able to cap enrollment at about 22 is a major factor. Being that charter schools had certified teachers whereas many RSD schools did not is a major factor. Also notice that the top performing schools, such as Lusher and Audubon, have a selective admissions policy. Another factor was the total incompetance of the RSD governing body. Two of the quotations made me cringe. Brian Riedlinger, the president of Algiers Charter Schools, said that "One of the things we know about successful schools is that they have successful principals." The best principal I have ever met, Keith Bartlett, works at Dibert Elementary, a school where 78% of 4th graders did not score "basic." Leslie Jacobs, the president of the state run BESE school board and who has been pushing for all of New Orleans schools to become charters, claims that students at charter schools feel ownership which empowers them. I went to a great government-run public school and all of the students there felt ownership. What New Orleans needs is a quality school board, something that has been lacking for many years. To compare charter schools to schools run by the RSD is not a fair comparison, and I hope that some journalists dig a bit deeper into this situation.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Monday, July 16, 2007
It's Gilgamesh, early in the morning on a rainy day, sitting in front of the Cabildo. He and Therese are there as part of a protest against Eddie Jordan, the DA for New Orleans who has done by all accounts a pretty horrible job prosecuting murderers. My representative on the city council, Shelley Midura, has written an open letter for Jordan to resign. Today many concerned residents of New Orleans are gathering in the French Quarter at the Cabildo to protest against Jordan's incompetance. I'm so proud Therese and Gilgamesh are there, and I wish I was too. Let them know, Gilgamesh, that the current situation is totally unacceptable.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Professor Barkai learning things he didn't know about the Tanak.
Saturday, July 07, 2007
Monday, July 02, 2007
My previous opinion pieces are:
Nation Watching Our Education Lab (March 31, 2007).
Feeling Not So Welcome at the Welcome Home Center (January 25, 2007).
Building Our New Jerusalem (August 12, 2006).
Saturday, June 30, 2007
It's a WHS trowel made in Sheffield, and I got it from my friend Fiona in London many years ago. I named it "Chopper" and it has served me well. Back in San Diego, and while digging in Jordan, my friends used to call me "The Chopper." The name comes from the terrible movie C.C. and Company starring Joe Namath and Ann-Margret. I'm thinking of bringing the name out of retirement.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Gilgamesh, my father William Homan, and Kalypso in Columbus, NE, November 2005.