Filed Under:  Education, Local, News

Dept. of Ed secretary pays visit to Carver High School

10th December 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Zoe Sullivan
Contributing Writer

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made a quiet visit to George Washington Carver High School on December 4. School principal, Isaac Pollack, said that two meetings with community members had been planned in advance. In spite of this, a group of people who have been advocating for community-led reform at the school were told to stay behind a rope barrier during Duncan’s visit.

Duncan met with three student representatives to discuss how the process of change has been going and how they feel about it. Pollack told The Louisiana Weekly that he and other school leaders “tried to select scholars who are really active and represent a lot of their peers.”

Asked about the discussion the students had with Duncan, Pollack said: “the overall tenor of the discussion was one of excitement about the academic changes and the desire to have the best educational opportunities for themselves and how they felt in a lot of ways that those were really being highlighted this year.”

Currently, three schools are co-located at the Carver location. At the start of the 2012-2013 school year, a charter organization, Collegiate Academies, launched two high school cohorts with separate ninth-grade classes. Carver currently serves 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders.

During his visit, Duncan spent roughly 10 minutes answering questions from local media. Topics ranged from his view on last week’s unconstitutional ruling for the state’s educational voucher program to full educational opportunity for students with disabilities and English Language Learners.

“I’m going to meet later today, actually, many of the community members who maybe aren’t the happiest about how things have gone,” Duncan told the press. “I think it’s really important to hear that voice.” The Secretary stressed that everyone involved in the education debate “want[s] the same thing for kids. They want kids to have a chance to be successful in life, and to do that, you have to get a world-class education.” He also acknowledged that better communication earlier in Carver’s transformation process “would have been very valuable.”

Principal Pollack’s hiring was surrounded by controversy be?cause alumni and community members who were actively involved in discussions with the Recovery School District (RSD) about Carver’s future, said the RSD made the hire without consulting them.

“Everything is not hunky dory,” Dr. Betty Brown told The Louisiana Weekly in a phone interview. Brown is a clinical psychologist and Carver alumna. Brown has been engaging with Carver’s administration as part of a group community members and alumni.

“We understand that this reform is not something that the community is welcoming. There are lots of problems with it,” Brown stated. Pragmatism and concern for the current students, however, seem to motivate her to keep seeking a solution. “Everything is a work in progress. Our perspective is try to work with the institutions that are on the campus to make sure that the students get what they need.”

Brown said that providing this support involves at least one member of the group being physically present on campus so that students can connect with them in person.

The Recovery School District did not respond to an inquiry from The Louisiana Weekly requesting verification of this allegation.

Responding to a question from The Louisiana Weekly about ensuring quality education for special needs students and those for whom English is a second language, Duncan placed the onus of accountability squarely on the chartering authority. Affirming that “every public school — traditional, charter, whatever, y’know magnet, whatever it might be,” must serve all students. Duncan told the press that inclusion is critical. Consequently, he said, it is “incumbent upon the chartering authority…that part of any accountability for a charter organization is: Are they inclusive?’ And if they’re being selective, that flies in the face of everything they’re supposed to be for.”

This article was originally published in the December 10, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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