Complex education system requires that Orleans Parish School Board finds the right superintendent

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The Orleans Parish School Board has been at loggerheads for two years, unable to select a new superintendent. For ideas on how to break the impasse, The Lens invited educators and advocates — including all members of the school board — to weigh in. We are publishing their thoughts in the next week.

The basic question: What does the board need to do to break the logjam and convince a top-notch educator to take charge as superintendent?

Woody Koppel

Woody Koppel

An honest observer will notice that things have changed drastically in the educational scene in New Orleans. Ninety percent of students are now in charter schools. The Orleans Parish School Board, on which I serve, has 10,000 students in the charters we oversee and another 3,000 students in schools we operate directly — so even within our own organization, 75 percent of students are in charters.

Schools under the direction of the Recovery School District are 100 percent charters. All are nonprofits and have independent boards of directors that are subject to open-meetings laws. The schools may have varying missions, as defined in their charters, but all must meet academic, financial and other criteria. Failure to do so subjects them to closure or reorganization.

Schools directly run by the Orleans Parish School Board answer to an elected board and are run from a central office that handles the system’s business. A superintendent of schools provides day-to-day oversight and works with the board to develop strategies for success in OPSB’s direct-operated schools.

Let’s be clear about the current impasse in selecting a new superintendent. The important thing is not to name “a” superintendent, but to choose the right superintendent, the woman or man who can lead this very diverse work in progress in the right direction.

That means understanding the whole system citywide — even statewide — and being able to work with very different governance and administrative entities for the betterment of the children of New Orleans.

The current board has been called dysfunctional because of its inability to agree who this leader should be. The complexity of our administrative system is accused of discouraging well-qualified candidates. I don’t buy it.

The right superintendent should be intrigued by the chance to be on the cutting edge of school reform, to do something different, take a new road, and build a strong system that truly serves all of our students and the community where they live.

Yes, some of the behavior exhibited at recent Orleans Parish School Board meetings is off-putting — particularly the tolerance of hate speech and personal attacks, both from the floor and from some of those sitting on the stage.

Everyone — including audience members and employees at all levels — should be treated with respect and shouldn’t be subjected to public insults or private intimidation. Is this the reason that well-qualified educators are hesitant to take on a task that seems thankless and harsh?

If the work in progress is going to continue in the right direction, people have to work together, compromise, and have as a single goal the good of students and the community we serve.

Woody Koppel is a former New Orleans public school teacher now serving his second term on the Orleans Parish School Board, representing District 6.

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