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!

Monday, February 9, 2009

WTF, Attorney's are draggin' this on to get paid by YOU!!

"Upon the entry of an order by the court " declaring that west bank magnet schools offer substantially equal educational opportunities as magnet schools situated on the east side of the Mississippi River, no student domiciled on the west bank of the river shall be permitted to enroll in an east bank magnet school and no student domiciled on the east bank of the river shall be permitted to enroll in a west bank magnet school..." Judge Engelhardt

"Upon the entry of an order by the court..." Can this be any clearer!!

Question: Will my student be denied access NOW to a magnet on the opposite side of the river from his residency?

"According to our attorneys, all new qualified East Bank magnet applicants receive 1st priority (to Eastbank schools). Westbank students will only be considered after all available spaces have been filled by qualified Eastbank students." Rosalind Mathes

"the document speaks for itself" Charles Patin

So this is what the "document" says, Patin!!

"The Court made it abundantly clear that the January 29th Order did not declare the magnet schools to be unitary, but was a step towards the eventual declaration of such status. In fact,
the Court requested, and the parties agreed to, the deletion of language in the original West Bank Magnet Plan that confined magnet students to the side of the river upon which they reside, see Rec. Doc. 190,
and noted that deletion at the fairness hearing. The Court has consistently noted that it did not favor any proposal to “close the river,” and repeated that fact at the hearing. Finally, in response to a question from a parent, the Court explicitly declared from the bench that a student need not live on the West Bank to attend a West Bank magnet school, and vice verse." Judge Engelhardt

"Despite assertions to the contrary made by attorneys last week, the Jefferson Parish public school system cannot use the Mississippi River as a dividing line when assigning students to its magnet schools, according to an order released last week by the federal judge overseeing the district's desegregation lawsuit." Jenny Hurwitz, TP

At this point Federal Government oversight is the most sensible thing to maintain. This school board is not ready to handle the responsibilities of a desegregated system!!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

You've Got to be Kidding me!!!

According to recent events the School Board has rescinded the component of the consent order requiring guardian and parental residency on the same side of the river as the attending Magnet school. Instead they are choosing to add a residency restriction when reviewing applications from Jefferson Parish residents that live on the opposite bank from the school. This, in my opinion is the SAME THING. Does the parish want to have Magnet schools or do they want great schools in every district that attract great teachers with parents and students that want to learn? They are doing a wonderful job building out the parish with new high achieving schools. Don’t let them soil their efforts by casting arbitrary residency restrictions that serve no purpose. Westbank children will go to westbank Magnet schools if they have the choice and the schools are GOOD. Same for eastbank. Applying this residency restriction is simply "fudging" their bet that they will serve these “separate but equal” schools described as being ”substantially equal” on both sides of the river once declared unitary.

We have always view the division of the parish by the river as segregation. This new tactic is simply an example of the stubbornness of authority worn too long by the same people and of the institutional racism that permeates much of our society. If overt denial is not possible then covert denial is the last resort. This is the constant fear of Black people and the disenfranchised. I am sadden for this turn of events but am please to see it come to light right now rather than 2.5 to 3 years from now when the school board’s “authority network” has the final say in decisions. We may get to change the make-up of the board over time but history bears out those chances as nil.

History also bears the fact that people's drive and enthusiasm wane and the weight of the mass will have to be born by just a few. Mrs. Elder is doing a remarkable job keeping abreast of the Boards activities, informing parents and maintaining a home as she sinks her teeth deeper into the school board's shenanigans. She like myself will do what is best for our children after all of this is over but I hope the example she has set in staying the course will not be lost on parents after us. I’m afraid however that history also bears witness to this as well.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Let's Be Heard!!!

I've created a Poll that I would like for you to participate in. The issues surrounding the JPSS consent order has taken a turn for the worst. Attorney's are not cooperating with the Judges rulings (believe it or not) so we would like to bring this to a conclusion. Here is a snippet of the Judges orders:

..."Any party or representative of a party who makes representations of assertions contrary to that which is set forth herein, or contrary to the record in these proceedings, or contrary to the transcripts of the fairness hearing of January 29th, 2009, will CEASE and DESIST from such representation."...

The complete actual order may be downloaded here.

The goal is to get the public schools on the road to unitary status, place the school board in a position to make decisions to support our school system and at the same time maintain the integrity of the parish on both the East and West sides of the Mississippi River.

Please click "Participate" then indicate your preference in the table that will appear. You may remain anonymous or you may give your name. Keep your eyes on this site for updates and actions if you are not already on Mrs. Edler's email list...

Never mind, the fervor is over. Thank you Jenny!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Just for my record!

These are the words that I had for Judge Engelhardt and the court at the Fairness Hearing on Thursday January 29th. It seems that the battle is still ensuing given the order released by the court after the attorneys (represented by Charles Patin) have (and I will be kind) "mis-stated" to the public the orders by the court concerning the separation of the parish by the river:

Having been involved in this process from the beginning I am very impressed with the progress the school board and their attorneys have made to address the concerns in the lawsuit and the those of parents in an effort to secure unitary status. We all have learned a lot about the school board, the school districts, curriculum and each other.

This process however is not about us, it’s about our children and the equitable utilization of our tax dollars to encourage and provide the best educational opportunities for them. We have also learned that in some respects education is a business and like a business it needs to be financially sound, legally compliant and consumer friendly. And so like a business limiting the consumer base is not expedient. Segregation served to legally allow isolation, restriction, denial of service and stigmatization that is still felt in many communities today. Freedom of choice is an inalienable right that we all share. It is the most outstanding attraction to becoming an American citizen. No one can come to this republic and be denied opportunity because of who they are or where they come from as long as they remain compliant to the laws of this land.

I submitted to your honor in a letter the things I wanted to say regarding the bridge closure and parish wide access. I simply wanted to remind the court that all or our freedoms are inexplicably linked and efforts to limit the freedoms of one group will ultimately encroach upon the freedoms of another.

Let’s continued the good work that was started over a year ago and that is nearly completed today. Better schools, better teachers, better administrators and staff, better parents, better guardians, better children for better communities for everyone.

Friday, January 30, 2009

"...the ugly specter of racial inequality... I like that!

Mrs. Nicole Edler addressed Judge Engelhardt with this excellent and compelling treatise on the need to really care about the attorney's efforts to divide the parish. I was there, you would have been proud:

Good Morning,Your Honor:

I applaud this court in its attempt to put an end to the ugly specter of racial inequality and segregation in our schools. However, racial demographic documentation presented to this court has shown that the Jefferson Parish School Board and the plaintiffs have crafted a plan that will in fact lead to resegregation and further isolationism of black and white students in Jefferson Parish. As Dr. Roussel affirmed to this court on Dec. 14th, 75% of minority students in Jefferson Parish reside on the west bank. Only 25% of African American students reside on the east bank. “Assigning” students to a magnet school on the side of the river of their residence will advance segregation and geographical discrimination of the west bank and the students that reside there. This suggests an attempt by the litigants in this case to reinstitute a dual system, a system which this court has attempted to abolish for over 40 years.

The supportive documentation confirms that the east bank’s court-approved ratio of black to white students (+/- 15%) is significantly lower than the black/white percentage range declared acceptable by this court for the west bank. The disparity is evidenced by the differences in the housing patterns on the west bank, which is more racially diverse, less affluent and more African-American.

However, as they proclaimed in 1971, the Jefferson Parish School Board once again contends that the disparity in the races and the separation of the parish by the river is an inevitable “product of voluntary housing patterns”, a justification which was not accepted by the court in 1972 as an excuse to promote racism, and one which should not be accepted today by this court. The school board seeks permission by this court to “assign” students to magnet schools where the student population on one side of the river may be disproportionately of one race, while ignoring the racial implications and consequences therein. This flies in the face of desegregation, and circumvents the intent of this court and our constitution.

Swann v. Mecklenburg placed the burden on school authorities to show that one race schools are "genuinely nondiscriminatory." Closing the river to crossing magnet students will, in fact, risk the eventual return of “one-race” magnet schools. Allowing students to access magnet schools on both sides of the river encourages racial, socio-economic, religious, and cultural diversity in our magnet schools. In 1971, the district court found that the only evidence presented by the School Board to justify the presence of 19 one race schools "was an allusion to housing patterns." Today, the school board would have this court separate the parish by the river and thus “assign” students to a magnet school based on their geographical residency. What the school board fails to publically acknowledge is that, in conceding that most African-American students reside on the west bank, and would therefore be “assigned” to west bank magnet schools, they are, in fact, intentionally or not, promoting segregation, while attempting to use the Mississippi River as a dividing rod. Forty years later, it still smacks of racism. Just because it may not be spelled out clearly or outwardly spoken, it does not mean that the intent is lost on the public. Our constitution does not allow us to turn a blind eye to racism, be it overt or subtle. It does not allow us to claim ignorance of its existence.

Your Honor: Magnet schools promote natural desegregation, which is the justified and noble objective of this court. Please do not allow the Jefferson Parish School Board to “assign” students to our magnet schools, thereby limiting and/or suppressing desegregation. Please do not allow them to separate our school system by the Mississippi River, which will most certainly attempt to circumvent the honorable intent of the 14th Amendment to our constitution. The magnet school plan, in its current form, is patently unfair.

Brown v. Board of Education stated that: “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”. The courts did not agree that educational facilities should be “substantially equal to the extent feasible”, as the school board has suggested. We are one parish. It is time that we started behaving like one. It is time to end the dual system.

Thank you.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

So let's play the game...AGAIN!

I was under the impression that the objective of the Jefferson Parish attorneys and school board officials was to have Jefferson Parish Public School system to become unitary. A year ago they were willing to sacrifice a few students by removing them from their present magnet school to attend "God knows what" school just not the school on the opposite side of their residence. Today Judge Engelhardt declared to the attorneys that their efforts working with the school board and parents may have paid off and the public schools in Jefferson will come under School Board control very soon!

There however is one sticky part. The Judge said that there was no reason to order the Mississippi River be set as a dividing line within the parish. Separating the parish by the river is akin to "creating a binary system" which is contrary to the consent order designed to eliminate segregation within the parish and create a unitary system. It was clear to all present, particularly Mrs. Mathis, Assistant to the Superintendant, that such an action was counter productive and that if a parent wishes to send their child to a school on the opposite side of the river from their residence they would be allow provide that parent understand that transportation would only be provide from their home to the nearest Magnet School. How hard is that to understand!!

Well attorneys are still singing that same song and dancing the same dance they did a year ago and I hope they are justifiably reprimanded. Parents are making plans to sent their children to a good school, but due to recent misrepresentation of this latest order some are still uncertain.

I beg of the school board and attorneys lay down your arms. You have presented the evidence in court yourself. Only about 50 or 60 students have been attending Magnet schools on the opposite side of the river from their residence. It has been 6 years since these schools have been opened. This can hardly be described as an effort by parents to "resegregate" themselves...a genuine fear expressed by the attorneys. Remember, approximately 20 of these students are Black.

Let this be the last word...until the next school board meeting:

"Space permitting, a student’s parent will be afforded an election to choose the elementary advanced studies academy in which to enroll his/her child. The school system will provide transportation where a student is enrolled in the elementary advanced studies academy in closest proximity to the home of the student’s parent or guardian."

So ordered, Judge Kurt Engelhardt

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Students who fall short would be transferred (Expelled?)

NOLA's TP reporter Barri Bronston reports that JP Board member Judy Colgan proposed that "students making lower grades (in the Magnet program) would be better served at conventional schools, where they could take honors courses in their stronger subjects". She also is "asking the board to forbid advanced studies students to return to their current school if they make a D or F in a core subject at the end of the first semester".

There may be a different "Procedures and Policies for Parents and Students" guide in Jefferson Parish than the one I have for 2008 - 2009. If not then the one I have is applicable to all public schools. In this document I read an extensive list of procedures and policy that MAY result in suspension and expulsion which include, willful disobedience, disrespect of a teacher or administrator, profane language, immoral or vicious practices, leaving school without permission, traffic violations, interference with orderly conduct, bomb threats, possession of electronic communication devices, damage or vandalism of school property, carrying weapons, possessing legal drugs, possessing illegal drugs, a felony conviction...

Each of these offenses depending on its seriousness may accumulate to the 3rd offense, is subject to a review and mitigation within the school, can result in 3 days to 4 semester suspensions in the most serious cases. None require a transfer!

Jefferson Parish Schools are suppose to be designed to provide the facilities, qualified personnel and the necessary feedback that indicates to the students, parents and themselves that progress is being made in meeting educational expectations. Maybe this is the reason for the proposal but in my opinion earning a D or F does not fit in the list of disciplinary infractions. It certainly does not warrant the gravest of all consequences...EXPULSION!

Students want education to enable them to the be the best people that they can be and become. Parents want this same educational goal for their children. The Jefferson Parish Public School System is committed to working with parents and students to fulfill each of their goals. The procedures and policies in this pamphlet are designed to create an atmosphere conducive to each student's being and becoming the very best he/she can be.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The wheels on the bus go round and round...

We just knew it was over! Yes, many of us were pleased with the consent order, except for segregating the parish by the Mississippi River, the potential loss of special programs at Hazel Park and the redistricting of some students in the Hazel Park area. This however did not seem to contribute to the Judge's denial of this iteration of the order to be reviewed again in 120 days. The over arching objective of this recent submission (as with the entire consent order) was to lower the number of segregated schools. It seems during this most recent redistricting no schools resulted in being desegregated with one potentially becoming racially identifiable. A death blow to a desegregation order.

I have to say to those involved who read this...if only the Magnet Schools had been left alone as was originally thought, Jefferson Parish Public Schools might have become unitary by now!