I was catching up on New Orleans education news yesterday, when I came across an article in the Times-Picayune focusing on Tuesday’s board meeting at John McDonogh Senior High School. I was surprised to read that you spent most of the meeting trying to deflect blame for John Mac’s poor performance since your organization, Future Is Now Schools (FINS), received a charter to manage the school two years ago. My surprise quickly turned to incredulity as I further read that you instead attempted to explain away FINS’ abortive turnaround effort – and the Recovery School District’s decision to close the school at the end of this school year – as an unavoidable consequence of the laws of supply and demand, saying, “It’s not management. It’s not we don’t know what we’re doing. You can’t run a high school with 300 kids.”
Now, if you’re a regular reader of the Sunday New York Times, you may have learned that us folks down in New Orleans ain’t as “cos-mo-politan” as them big city-types up in New York, or even probably Angelenos like yourself. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean we can’t tell the difference between an honest accounting of facts and a heaping pile of farmyard confetti. No one who’s been following events at John Mac over the past few years would characterize FINS’ management of the school as anything other than a failure.
I can certainly understand your impulse to downplay your organization’s struggles at John McDonogh. No one likes to admit they’ve failed. It’s often painful and embarrassing. I can imagine how hard it would be to acknowledge that John Mac’s School Performance Score actually declined 24% after FINS assumed control of the school from the RSD, regardless of how hard one tries to spin the numbers.
Plus, I wouldn’t want to have to admit that allowing Oprah to film a reality TV show during your first year at John Mac was a distraction from your primary goal of raising student achievement or that the effort was plagued by budgetary problems.
Still, I think it would behoove you to dispense with the buck passing and just admit the unfortunate truth. After all, you owe it to the wider education community in New Orleans. Critics of the city’s post-Katrina transformation often point to FINS’ series of missteps at John Mac in an attempt to malign New Orleans’ charter school community as a whole. Your refusal to accept any responsibility for John Mac’s failure only provides ammunition to those who want to portray the city’s education reformers as aloof and unaccountable.
More importantly, you owe it to the students and families that believed that your organization was going to be able to turn John McDonogh around. You didn’t. It’s OK, it’s not the end of the world. We already know that you’re leading FINS on a new and different path going forward. Plus, you’ve racked up many accomplishments over the years, improved the educational opportunities of thousands of young people, and you’ve even been profiled in the venerable New Yorker. At the very least, you should be able to swallow your pride and give the students of John McDonogh Senior High School the respect they deserve by acknowledging your mistakes and bringing this painful debacle to an honorable conclusion.