Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Once more, a Hearing on Fairness.

We are gathering again on December 4th at 9:30 am in the Federal Courtroom of Judge Kurt Engelhardt to present arguments concerning the fairness or lack thereof in the School Board restricting the Parish-wide access of parents and their children to a Magnet School education. Most of the Magnet Schools within the parish have opened after the hurricane and flood and since have been expanding in facilities and participation, providing exceptional and comparable grade advanced education for high achieving students. This is a service the School Board agreed would enhance educational competitiveness within the parish and bolster its attractiveness to businesses, development and communities within Jefferson Parish. Yet, in this effort, the board is heeding the advice of counsel and tainting its efforts with what essentially are the words "separate but equal". Come to court and hear the arguments to know what the future holds for our Magnet School system.

I hope to have the opportunity to address the court with the following transcript:

The School Board, Superintendent, attorneys and their constituency have been working to present to you Judge their best efforts to create a unitary public school system. I believe this continuing effort is creating the strongest, most competitive and diverse system for educating our young people within a major metropolitan city. A milestone well overdue and one that I believe can possibly improve the dynamics of parental involvement in their child's education as well as the reputation of elementary and secondary education in all of Southern Louisiana.

Segregation however is a dirty word. Anything preceded by the word “segregated” or “separated” in school will ultimately result in students receiving unfair and unequal consideration, treatment, services, facilities and opportunities. Rep. Steve Cohen, Tenn. Congressman, introduced a resolution in Feb of 2007 that received bipartisan support calling for the United States Government to issue an apology for the institution and consequences of slavery and Jim Crow. In part of his address he echoed my concerns this morning:

“This country had an institution of slavery for 246 years and followed it with Jim Crow laws that denied people equal opportunity under the law. There was segregation in the south and other places in this country, at least through the year 1965 when civil rights laws were passed. There were separate water fountains for people, marked white and colored, there were restaurants, there were separate hotels, and there were job opportunities that were not available to African-Americans.

He goes on to say:

…because only a great country can recognize and admit its mistakes and then travel forth to create indeed a more perfect union that works to bring people of all races, religions and creeds together in unity as Americans part of the United States of America."

I point this out not for hyperbole but for all to consider. The School Board and Superintendent have not worked so diligently to prepare our Parish to operate a unitary public school system only to segregated it by the Mississippi River. Let's rise up and prevent the mistakes caused by legal segregation and prevent what may ultimately lead to future apologies due to the unfair restriction of Parish-wide Magnet School access. The choices now and in the future that are available within the Magnet School system I believe will serve only to raise the standards and expectations of public education and be an example throughout all of Louisiana of the care we have for the preparation of all the children of Jefferson Parish to lead in a just and humane society.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Jefferson Parish Public School System

The school board gave the authority to the superintendent to appoint personnel. By statute and Dandridge, the superintendent actually had this power anyway, with the school board vote being, it seems, more or less a formality. At one time, this seemed like a good idea, because we didn't trust the school board to make these decisions thoughtfully. However, it seems now that we can't trust the superintendent to make such decisions either.

I have a problem with appointing a principal to serve a magnet school who has NO principal experience at any type of school. I also have a problem with appointing a principal who has no experience teaching any of the grade levels she will be presiding over. I also have a problem with appointing a principal who has only been certified as such for two months, and who only holds a preliminary certification, contigent upon her receiving additional education. While I think it's wonderful that Mrs. Christy Templet, the newly appointed principal, has glowing recommendations from individuals she has worked with in the past, I could get the same from judges, other attorneys, politicians. That would no more give me the proper qualifications to be the principal of Thomas Jefferson High School than it would give me the proper qualifications to fly a plane or perform heart surgery.

Also, I think our superintendent's motivation is clear when she decides to change the qualifications for a different position, that being Eastbank superintendent, just to keep a particular candidate from having the necessary qualifications. Interesting, Ms. Rousell feels that principal experience is necessary for the assistant superintendent position, but neither principal experience nor teaching experience are prerequisites to being a principal of a relatively new magnet school.

We can discuss political motivation, eastbank/westbank inequality, school board members who sign off on things they haven't bothered to read, until we're blue in the face. The bottom line is, the superintendent apparently has her own agenda, and there is nothing we can do about it. She's hired by the school board. They are keeping her. The best we can do is replace the school board members, and pray that we replace them with individuals who will appoint a superintendent who will make thoughtful considerations in her appointments.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A left! a right!! another right!!! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!

As a candidate for a job one of the usual prerequisites for being selected, appointed or hired is for the individual to have the capacity to improve, advance and promote the well-being of the company. Given the fact that there are tons of credentials available to assert that an individual is qualified to do this may not always reflect on a persons true potential to do it. Having worked with outstanding individuals with minor educational credentials who were extremely competent and other individuals with outstanding credentials who were idiots, I tend to believe what I see rather than what I read.

Given the flutter of emails that detail the "blow by blow" assessment of Dr. Roussel's appointment of Dr. Templet as Principal of Thomas Jefferson Senior High School it is important that somewhere in them it is made clear how such an appointment will improve, advance and promote the well-being of the Westbank's only Magnet high school. This is certainly necessary due to the fact that there may be students who will have no other option but to attend this school due to the "geographic segregation" imposed on them by the school board's attorneys. It is because of this segregation that this is so important of an issue. There would be nothing personal against Dr. Roussel or Mr. Morgan or any official that would give clear evidence for actions taken to reveal the benefits of this or any decision affecting the public and in particular our children. This is as important if not more important to the well being of our system as the well promoted and communicated "swine flu" infection. No, there is no "organization" representing the parents and students of Jefferson Parish. That I believe is the school board's job. We expect greater clarity in communication on this issue at the JP School Board meeting Wednesday May 6th at the Bonnabel High School at 3 pm. I'll be there!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Let's stay focused on our JPPSS Children!!

It's been said before and I'd like to say it again, this is not about us it's about what is necessary to fairly education the children, your children, in our parish. The gang at TP pointed out rather succinctly that "...West Jefferson parents...who have been fighting for inclusion in the Jefferson Parish School Board's desegregation lawsuit were thwarted again". It is true that this is the second intervention attempt but the reason was not to be included in the desegregation lawsuit for personal gain but rather to be able to see, hear and understand the motives and reasons for the school board (school board attorneys) wanting to segregate the magnet school system. This is unprecedented among magnet systems around the country and we believe this is simple an effort to continue to segregate access to quality education, funding and infrastructure and make it difficult for our communities to heal from the wounds of the past. The bridge naturally segregates the parish along racial boundaries and the Federal Court is our only avenue to prevent the perpetuation of a division within Jefferson Parish that is not only within our educational system but also within our social, cultural, economic, business and development systems. We want the bridge issue out of the equation. If our school board wishes to institute a division at a later date then let their efforts be scrutinized by the communities affected and not be mandated by federal court. I believe this is Judge Englehardt's point and I believe his wisdom in this process will prevail.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Mr. Emenes...we will miss you!

It is with great sadness that I acknowledge the loss of Jefferson Parish Eastbank Regional Superintendent Mr. Paul Emenes last night of a heart attack. I did not know Mr. Emenes well but a lot can be said well of a man who had devoted his life to one improve education within Louisiana. Jefferson Parish is going through some things now and its unfortunate that I personally did not get to hear from the man who lived through those harsh times of segregation as an adult in the public school system.
The personal experiences I did have, when he visited our school, was that of a man who was passionate about education, concerned for the well-being of children and dedicated to seeing that good teachers and administrators worked together in support of a better school system. My condolences to his family...and we will miss you Mr. Emenes.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

JPPSS Legislative Working Session

The Legislative Committee for the Jefferson Parish School System met on Friday, February 27th. In attendance were several of our distinguished school board members, a school board attorney, teacher's union representatives and me.

I entered in on a discussion between members and the Mrs. Alida Wyler, the Director of Health Services, about the necessity to have trained and willing staff to address the medical care of special needs children. This then transitioned into a discussion of the responsibilities and training associated with the impending installation of AEDs, automated external defibrillators.

The majority of the meeting time was used to engaged in discussions of Governor Bobby Jindal's proposals for the school systems. He is looking for systems statewide to address three issues: 1. Discipline, 2. Charter school improvements and, 3. "Value Added" testing and assessment. Most of the details behind the Governor's proposals require consideration of financial cutbacks and targeted spending particularly within the minimum foundation programs (MFPs) that are perceived as being supported by a "Block" grant and that its spending could be tailed for better returns.

The Governor's Proposals:

1. To address discipline in schools the main focus is to engage more parents and make them aware of the problems associated with students who disrupt class(es) or who become truants and never show up. The proposal seeks to go so far as to make parents accountable for their children's actions. Novel idea?

2. Charter schools from faith based establishments reporting to the public school system should be considered as a way of relieving the financial burdens of educating the large number students in the various communities around the state. Faith based charters in the public system have legal and social implications that may be difficult for the school board to control and that would make the ACLU curious.

3. Valued Added assessment and teaching as proposed should reflect a student's individual improvement from year to year and not just the student's performance verses the district or national average. This would encourage students who have significantly improved although still at or below the minimum requirements.

It was an interested meeting. Gene Katsanis and Jennifer Toupes? kept the meeting flowing and engaging on each topic. Hope to encounter many more sessions as I believe this is truly were policies get considered and legislation gets introduced in Baton Rouge that effects Jefferson Parish education for all children.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Tearing down the Wall!

My colleague in this fight to "properly" form a unitary public school system has placed her head on the block to get the job done. By filing an intervention in the Dandridge vs JPPS desegregation lawsuit Mrs. Nicole Edler is attempting to expose the true objectives and motivations of the school board and in particular their attorneys. She and supporters like myself want to expose the board's activities to all Jefferson Parish parents and guardians who are either uninformed, complacent, unconcerned or tired of fighting.

A unitary school system means the school board (and presumably the people who vote for them) would have more control to improve education for our children so it is simply obscene and antagonistic for Patin (school board attorney #1) to suggest she just wishes to hold up the process and get her white child in a school that's majority white. The fact that she is white is essential because under these circumstances Black students attending on the opposite side of the river from their residence may be eligible for a transfer (particularly from the Westbank to Eastbank) since Black students in any of these Magnet schools are underrepresented. I would likely have been dismissed as having no right to intervene, being Black (if you didn't know).

Like her I am interested in the true rationale for denying cross river access. Despite the judge's orders (AND his "Cease and Desist") the school board is now disguising their rebelliousness by using preferential admissions according to residency and not test scores to segregate the parish. I just want them to clearly explain how desegregation will be achieved by segregating the parish by the river! Substituting one dual system for another duel system seems counter productive and sets a bad precedent. We want to hear it from the "horses' mouths" and not be shut out by attorney client privileged.

These activities the school board insists on encouraging stands in stark contrast to the Jefferson Economic Development Commission's optimistic objectives with its slogan "Jefferson: Opportunity Lives Here". The attorney's make this slogan sound too much like a similarly ironic slogan, "Arbeit Macht Frei"!

Will my child have opportunities in Jefferson Parish?...I really can't tell!