Filed Under:  Education, Local, News

Public School parent runs for District 3 seat

15th October 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

Karran Harper Royal’s campaign for the school board has one major theme, get the Public Schools back from the state.

As she explained in an interview with The Louisiana Weekly, “The agenda to privatize public education and create a ‘separate but unequal’ system in New Orleans is, I fear, about to step up dramatically. For six years, charter organizations and incubators have been funded to start new charters, whether the schools incubated ultimately fail and their students are ultimately displaced or not. I think there’s a better way to allocate funds and create an excellent education system.”

“I’ve worked with national ex­perts on education and studied best practices and successful models in other cities to develop an idea of what works best in a city like ours. I’ll push OPSB to develop strong community boards at all of its school sites, charters and non-charters, and expose their leaders to models of what works in other urban centers. I’ll also push OPSB to expand their school models that already work well here (like Bethune Elementary) to new sites in areas currently underserved by the local district.”

“We need to expand the OPSB system because the RSD schools are increasingly not an option for New Orleans parents. 79 percent of the Recovery School District Charters are D or F schools and 100 percent of the RSD direct-run schools are D or F schools. We are seeing a rising crime rate and our young people are leaving school without the skills to find jobs. Our children can’t afford seven more years of a complacent Orleans Parish School Board that hasn’t stepped up to create high-quality schools to save our children from the failed state reforms.”

“In sum, I am in this race to give the people of New Orleans a real choice that will lead to quality public schools for all children.”

Of course, Royal’s critics, including her two opponents in the District 3 race, note that legally the OPSB could not open any other schools, nor have any purview over public schools other than those that were high-performing prior to Hurricane Katrina. And, those school rankings have gone up drastically in the last seven years.

Royal has an answer for those who said the School Board’s hands were tied. “The OPSB can apply to get back failing OPSB schools and I think the OPSB should develop a transition plan with the input of the community and start taking back schools utilizing the strategies they have used to keep its direct-run schools operating successfully. There will need to be further legislation to get charters brought back under local control. I don’t see RSD charters voting to come back under local control.”

She ardently opposes a complete charter system in Orleans as Superintendent John White has proposed. “We are well on the way to an all-charter school system, however I don’t believe it’s the best way to get to real reform in public education — at least, not the way charter schools have been run here to date, with national charter school companies taking over and running schools without incorporating parents and members of the local communities in a meaningful way into their governing boards. (Putting a few well-connected people on charter boards doesn’t qualify as ‘local control’.)”

“True reform,” she argued, “requires greater oversight by the locally elected OPSB to ensure equality, whether the schools in question are public charters or traditional public schools. If we don’t exercise that oversight, we will quickly revert to a ‘separate but equal’ public school system that does not give every child equal access to a quality public education.”

“True reform also requires that diverse members of the local community have a voice and a role in shaping an excellent educational system for our children. Right now, the only way many parents have of shaping their children’s educational experience is by pulling them out of one failing charter school and seeking a place in one that is hopefully better and more stable. Being jerked from school to school is inherently destabilizing for children and impedes their ability to learn.”

Royal’s criticisms extend to the new State Private School Scho­larships of which most RSD students qualify. She thinks they are a bad idea. “School vouchers are another step in the ongoing privatization of public education. They will divert funding away from public schools, making it that much more difficult to create real reform in public education. The OPSB schools and charters will see some loss in enrollment as parents try out this new option. Parents will try this option, ironically, because the current public system doesn’t provide the quality options that it needs to.”

She is also critical on the way the $2 billion in FEMA money for reconstruction in the school’s master plan. “I don’t think enough money has been allocated under the current plan to rebuild schools in New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward. Every neighborhood in New Orleans needs to provide excellent schools to its residents. It is not acceptable for a child to have to ride hours on a bus every day to attend a quality school, or for that child’s parents to be deprived of interaction with school personnel because they can’t reach the school site without riding hours on public transit.”

“I propose restoring some aspect of stability by making all OPSB schools provide guaranteed access to students who live within a one-mile radius of the school site. To make that equitable, OPSB needs to make sure it provides high-quality schools in all of the city’s neighborhoods.”

Royal rejected the idea, as some board members have proposed, that the physical plant of the charter schools should be donated to the charters forcing the charter operators to take responsibility over the properties and their expenses.

“OPSB properties should not be donated to charters unless charter school boards become truly public entities that are accountable to the taxpayers by being elected. Property owned by OPSB is public property, and nonprofit charter boards are essentially private entities. As we’ve seen, some of those entities fail. It’s important that only the entity legally responsible levying for a tax for public education (OPSB) own the buildings built with public funds for public education purposes, unless those properties are sold on the open market for a fair market price.”

She is questions the condition of Special Education in Orleans. “Children with special needs still face far fewer choices in public education today in New Orleans than federal law demands. We need to implement a tough oversight system with real sanctions for schools that violate the law. We need to offer greater incentives to schools that serve the highest need students with disabilities. How­ever, we also need to require every school to accept any students with a disability who lives within one mile of their home. That way, no school can avoid enrolling its fair share of students with disabilities. This will help achieve the spirit of federal law, which is to include special needs students for the benefit of both those students and the general student population. It will also avoid situations like those I’ve met in the field, where parents of special needs students are given excuses and turned away by school after school.”

“Special Education applies to gifted populations as well as to populations with disabilities. Again, the spirit of the law is to include these populations rather than to siphon them off to special school for the gifted. OPSB can support this by working with school sites to make sure they attract all the special funding they deserve for working with special populations at both ends of the spectrum.”

As to why she challenging an incumbent and a former Teach for America ED, what some would call an uphill race, Royal recounted a story. “In October of 2010 I met a parent of three children who were out still not in school by October 14th because their mother had had trouble negotiating the school system. I met her at a School Board meeting at McDonogh 35, where she had come looking for help. She had spent the entire day with her children (in their uniforms from previous schools) on buses and streetcars, going from school to school to try to get them enrolled. Someone at one of the schools told her to come to the school board meeting being held that night.”

“I actually met her in the bathroom, where I overheard her saying to her kids ‘C’mon, these people aren’t going to give us any help.’ I asked her what was going on, gave her my card and told her I’d try to help.”

“I spoke that night to both the OPSB Superintendent and a board member of an RSD charter school about this family’s predicament. In cooperation with Southern Poverty Law Center, I worked with this parent for two months to get all three of her children into school. We succeeded, but only by enrolling them in three separate schools — two of which were miles away from the students’ home. This was particularly problematic because two of the students were very young, in first and fifth grade, respectively.”

“Not only were the children split up, making it very hard for their parent to engage with the various school sites, but the schools where the children were enrolled literally shifted under their feet. The older one was sent to a high school that has now (2012) been taken over by a charter. The fifth-grader enrolled in a school that then had a charter expand to take over some of the grades at his school but not his grade, which the RSD eliminated. That child had to find yet another new school the following school year. The first-grader, meanwhile, also had to find another school because the school she enrolled in during the fall of 2010 suggested that she find another school at the end of the year.”

“It was a heartbreaking situation that reinforced several of the things I’ve fought for on behalf of parents: every child has a right to attend a safe school close to home; every child with special needs has a right to have their needs addressed at any public school; and every parent deserves a school system that provides them with genuine choices that they are able to understand, and someplace to turn if they don’t understand the process. All three of these children had their education disrupted over and over again. This mother had other challenges with housing and literacy. Our school system must work for these kinds of families most of all.”

Concluding, Royal emphasized, “I am the only public school parent in the District 3 race. I understand what it’s like to live with the decisions made by the Orleans Parish School Board. For 20 years, I’ve had children in this system and I have the experience and understanding of how to work with community to make decisions on the OPSB that benefit all children. Other candidates in for school board have their school-age children enrolled in non-public schools, which I think demonstrates an essential lack of faith and a lack of personal investment in the system they hope to help govern.”

The election is November 6, 2012, the same day as the Presidential race.

This article was originally published in the October 15, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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