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Thank You, Stan OPSB Interim Superintendent is a thankless job, that's why we owe Stan Smith a debt of gratitude

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While we’re told “the cream always rises to the top,” when one considers the rogues’ gallery of corrupt and/or incompetent public officials who have brought disgrace to New Orleans over the years, it’s not unreasonable to believe the opposite is true in the Crescent City. In fact, New Orleanians have become so inured to failures in leadership that we tend to view our local government institutions with skepticism, if not outright cynicism.

Perhaps no public body is viewed with as much distrust as the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB), thanks to a series of embarrassing management and corruption scandals in the years prior to Hurricane Katrina. Although things have improved somewhat since the storm, over the past few years OPSB has been wracked by power struggles and infighting, particularly around the issue of district construction contracts. Even worse, the district has been without a permanent superintendent since April 2012 – that is, until now.

At its monthly board meeting on Tuesday, OPSB got itself together and finally selected a new leader, voting unanimously in favor of Henderson Lewis, Jr., who currently heads East Feliciana Public Schools. While it is yet to be seen whether Lewis lives up to the ambitious goals he’s set for himself, we should take this opportunity to recognize the person who’s been at helm of the district for the past two-and-a-half years: Interim Superintendent Stan Smith.

Stan Smith didn’t seek his current role and will no doubt be more than happy to hand over the reins to Lewis. At 68, one suspects Stan could have easily walked off stage and into retirement at any point, leaving OPSB to its own self-destructive devices. Who would blame him? He’s been disrespected and humiliated by board members. He’s been unfairly accused of racism and incompetence. He’s even been threatened by an individual with a shady past masquerading as a civil rights activist.

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Danielle Dreilinger gave me flak for using her picture of OPSB here, so I’m using this photo as a placeholder.

Nevertheless, Smith has doggedly stuck with it because the job simply needed to be done. For almost three years now, he’s managed the day-to-day operations of the district quietly and effectively, without the drama that has so often characterized the deliberations of the school board. Furthermore, Smith has managed to successfully steer the district while fending off repeated attempts by board member Ira Thomas to oust him from office.

When considered together, Smith and Thomas are a study in contrasts. Smith is modest, self-effacing, and has discharged his responsibilities as Interim Superintendent with a professionalism befitting the position. Thomas, on the other hand, is a self-serving bully who sees the school board as a stepping stone to higher office, but possesses neither the character, nor good sense to reach beyond it.

Although Thomas accused Smith of “fraud and deceit” and repeatedly called into question his “character, professional competence, and/or physical or mental health,” he produced zero evidence to support his claims. In the end, Smith refused to step down and Thomas failed to muster the votes needed to remove him from the district’s top post.

When asked why Smith refused to budge in the face of Thomas’ slanderous attacks, his lawyer said, “He thinks he’s benefiting the students, the district and the parish.” Many of us would agree with that assessment. Through it all, Smith has revealed himself to be an all-too-rare character in the New Orleans experience: a genuine public servant. For this reason, he not only deserves our respect, he deserves our gratitude.

Thank you, Stan.

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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Peter C. Cook

@martajewson You’ll just have to test it and find out!

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@petercook does that link lead to a selfie with a thumbs up sign?

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NOLA

PSA: It’s Millage Time Three School Taxes Are Up For Renewal On October 14th

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Voters in New Orleans will be heading to the polls next month for the first round of several high-profile citywide races. While the contests for mayor and various city council seats have drawn plenty of attention, three important school board millages are also on the ballot (literally at the very bottom, so don’t miss them).

The millage proposal language on an Orleans Parish sample ballot from the Louisiana Secretary of State.

The three proposals simply renew existing property taxes for another decade and will provide our city’s public schools with approximately $38 million annually. Funding from these millages will benefit both charter and traditional schools, whether they’re under the oversight of the Orleans Parish School Board or the Recovery School District. If they are not renewed, schools will receive $850 less per student each year, resulting in cuts that will negatively impact our kids.

Public schools in New Orleans have made tremendous gains over the past 12 years and the revenue generated by these taxes will help ensure that progress continues.

That’s why New Orleanians should vote YES on all three school board millage proposals when they head to the polls on October 14th.


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Charters

PSA: NAACP Charter School Hearing Tonight Don't Let Critics Distort The Story In New Orleans

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Tonight, the NAACP will be holding a hearing on charter schools at the New Orleans City Council Chambers (1300 Perdido Street) starting at 5:30pm. It will be the sixth hearing that the NAACP has held in cities across the country following their inexplicable call for a moratorium on charter schools last fall.

Flyer for tonight’s NAACP hearing.

The NAACP’s call for a moratorium has been roundly criticized by education reform advocates, as well as by the editorial board of The New York Times, which called the move “a misguided attack” by an organization that “has struggled in recent years to win over younger African-Americans, who often see the group as out of touch.” The Washington Post was even more scathing in their take on the moratorium, linking the NAACP’s recent turn against charters to the substantial financial support the group has received from the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association.

Angry charter school parents from Memphis confronted NAACP officials at their national meeting in Cincinnati last fall.

In any case, NAACP officials have apparently decided to dispense with any pretense of objectivity at tonight’s meeting by inviting a number of outspoken charter opponents to speak, including:

  • Bill Quigley, a law professor at Loyola who filed a specious civil rights complaint against a local charter network that was eventually dismissed by the Louisiana Department of Education for lack of evidence;
     
  • Walter Umrani, an anti-charter candidate for the District 4 seat on the Orleans Parish School Board who received only 13% of the vote;
     
  • Willie Zanders, the lead attorney in the class action lawsuit against the Orleans Parish School Board and State of Louisiana over the layoffs of school board employees following Hurricane Katrina that was dismissed by the Louisiana Supreme Court;
     
  • Adrienne Dixson, a former education professor from Illinois who recently compared the education landscape in New Orleans to “The Hunger Games”;


  • State Rep. Joe Bouie who has used his position on the House Education Committee to spread misinformation about charter schools and engage in obstructionism, as seen below.

Charter school supporters need to attend tonight’s NAACP hearing to ensure that the truth is heard and that the positive impact that charters have had on the children of this city is not denied.

I hope to see you there!

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