Friday, March 13, 2009

Recovering New Orleans school has big dreams, plans for success



Athletic director of George Washington Carver Senior High School Brian Bordainick, left, student, Richard Davis, center, and coach Shyrone Carey, stand next to the school sign Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009 in New Orleans. A lifeline for students who are struggling to re-establish a sense of normalcy, Carver High School is a centerpiece of an ambitious plan to restore pride in the 9th Ward community. (AP Photo/ Judi Bottoni)




George Washington Carver Senior High School students leaving school walk through a devasted area across from the school Thursday, March 5, 2009 in New Orleans. The area was flooded during Hurricane Katrina Aug. 29, 2005. A lifeline for students who are struggling to re-establish a sense of normalcy, Carver High School is a centerpiece of an ambitious plan to restore pride in the 9th Ward community. (AP Photo/ Judi Bottoni)


By MARY FOSTER


Associated Press Writer



NEW ORLEANS (AP) — George Washington Carver High School — a collection of prefabricated buildings that sprang up amid the devastation of Hurricane Katrina — has always been a fertile ground for dreamers.

Just ask Carver graduate and former NFL star Marshall Faulk.

"A lot of life-lessons were taught at that school and in that football program," he said. "My coach got me off the street and taught me to believe in myself. That's what football can do in a school where kids don't have a lot of other things."

Carver is the centerpiece of an ambitious plan to restore pride in the 9th Ward community and a lifeline for students who are struggling to re-establish their lives after the devastating storm forced them to flee the city.

The school's football team and band are back, and a $1.8 million proposal to build a football stadium and Olympic-quality track is gaining steam.

"It would be for more than just Carver, everybody in the city could use it," said Brian Bordainick, Carver's 23-year-old athletic director, who hustles the plan constantly. "We want this to be what revives youth sports in New Orleans."

The effort got a big boost Monday, when the New Orleans Saints announced a $200,000 grant for what Bordainick calls the "9th Ward Field of Dreams."

Before the announcement of the grant through the NFL Grassroots Program, more than $855,000 had been raised from public and private sources. Donations in small amounts are coming in from individuals, community groups and churches.

"We've all lost so much here," said Mary Lodge Evans, a 1962 Carver graduate and president of the alumni association. "As far as a community, we still have a long way to go, but the school is giving us something to rally around."

The 531 students — down from 1,200 pre-Katrina — are drawn from all over New Orleans. They are mostly poor and mostly black. Principal Vanessa Eugene said many students' lives were disrupted by the storm, and some were homeless or living with someone other than a parent.

Some were out of school for a year or two.

"It's things like our sports and the band that have brought these kids together," Bordainick said.

"They are very proud of what we're doing here, and feel very much a part of it. That's a big thing for kids who have lost so much."

Katrina devastated the Carver neighborhood in August 2005, pouring a dozen feet of water into its modest homes and small businesses. Most remain empty, still bearing high-water marks and the circled Xs searchers left as they looked for storm victims.

At present there is no timetable for removing the old school, let alone beginning construction on a new one, Bordainick said.

But in temporary classrooms and athletics on the hard-hit Carver school grounds, life is returning.

"I'd like to get a football scholarship," said Richard Davis, 17, who shuffled between New Orleans and Texas for two years after Hurricane Katrina. "But if I don't get that, I'm pretty good in math, so that's a possibility for a scholarship."

The school has a track team, which does practice runs in the streets around the school — pounding past empty houses. The softball team's practice field is a vacant lot covered with stubble.

The football team, always Carver's claim to fame, had a string of district championships from 1997 through 2004.

Faulk starred for the Rams before heading to the NFL, ending up as a St. Louis Ram.

At Carver then, and now, Faulk said, extracurricular activities keep kids off the streets.

"In that area, you don't have a lot to keep kids in school," Faulk said. "Carver is their best hope."
Faulk's foundation will hold a fundraiser for the sports complex this summer.

The football team, which has sent at least four players to the NFL, was reduced to 28 players last year. They practiced in an abandoned lot behind the school trailers. The kickers practice on a single goal post that frames an abandoned house.

The Rams had no stadium before Katrina, so they continued playing home games at a field across town. They lost every game on the 2008 schedule.

The new players had almost no experience.

"We had to show them things like how to take a three-point stance, how to line up," coach Shyrone Carey said.

This year, with only one player lost to graduation, there is optimism.

"I think we're a lot more comfortable, and in a lot better shape," said Tevin Ratcliff, 16, a wide receiver who hopes to earn a football scholarship.

Carey thinks that might not be just a pipe dream.

"I think some of these kids will be good enough for junior college or Division III scholarships," said Carey, who played at LSU. "They are hard workers."

The band is back, too, clad in new green and orange uniforms.

"We were wearing these real loud orange jogging suits," band director Frank Lewis said. "This year, we're looking sharp. The kids love it."

If things go as planned, ground will be broken for the stadium in July. A track meet is set for February 2010.

"I'm all for it," said Walter Mason, 56, who returns to the area to go to church, but has not yet restored his home. "Maybe it will let people know we're still alive back here."
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On the Web:
http://www.9thwardfieldofdreams.com/

Board: $250,000 is too much to spend on reading and math in Louisiana

By MELINDA DESLATTE
Associated Press Writer

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The Department of Education could pay a consulting firm as much as $250,000 over five months to work on the state's reading and mathematics efforts, a contract members of the state's top education board described Thursday as too costly.

State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek said Michael Fullan Enterprises Inc. will provide professional development seminars for teachers and principals, help the education department devise a 10-year strategy for student literacy and numeracy improvements and train department staff on how to provide technical support to schools in those efforts.

"Mr. Fullan is the guru on literacy and numeracy in the classroom," Pastorek told the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The work will begin March 15 and end by Aug. 31. Pastorek said the contract will include an amount not to exceed $250,000, but could cost less.

Though the no-bid contract was approved Thursday by BESE, three of the board's members opposed it, citing the large cost and short work time. The opponents were Dale Bayard of Lake Charles, Louella Givens of New Orleans and Linda Johnson of Plaquemine.

"We just seem to write a lot of checks and let the money flow," Bayard said.

Givens said it was difficult to support spending education dollars on a consulting contract when the board agreed to a school funding formula for next year that doesn't contain the 2.75 percent annual growth traditionally included. Board members said the state was too cash-strapped to afford an increase, so they aren't asking lawmakers for one in next year's budget.

"Sometimes when you can't do the basics, you have to let the frills go," Givens said.

But other board members talked of Fullan's expertise as they supported contract approval.

"I know it's a lot of money, but the contractor is renowned," said BESE member Glenny Lee Buquet of Houma. "They're buying the expertise of people that have worked across the world."

The Fullan contract was not put out for competitive bid, according to the education department.

Last year, lawmakers agreed to let Pastorek sidestep public bid requirements for educational consulting contracts up to $250,000 through June 30 because Pastorek said he had several consultants he wanted to hire that he thought would be best for the work. At the time, he listed literacy and numeracy among those types of consulting contracts.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.



Louisiana school district funding could stop big budget cuts 


By MELINDA DESLATTE

Associated Press Writer

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's 69 public school districts face a standstill funding formula for next year that would total nearly $3.3 billion and spare them the budget cuts proposed across most state agencies.

A committee of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Wednesday agreed not to request an increase in school funding because of the projected $1.3 billion drop in state revenue projected for the new budget year that begins July 1.

The funding formula approved by a board committee matches the proposal that will be offered by Gov. Bobby Jindal for the 2009-10 school year, which includes no cuts for school districts, said board member Penny Dastugue of Mandeville.

Traditionally, the formula grows by at least 2.75 percent a year.

"Although we understand that the (formula) is at what we're calling zero percent growth, that is not going to be the case with virtually every other agency in the state," Dastugue said. "We are grateful at this point."

The state board will take a final vote on the matter Thursday, but the vote is considered procedural. A majority of the board's members approved the formula in the 8-1 committee vote.
Voting against the standstill spending plan was Louella Givens of New Orleans, who said she wanted to send lawmakers a formula with the 2.75 percent growth as a start to negotiations.

"Once we do this we will never get that money back," Givens said. "We're asking districts to do more, and we're asking them to do more with less."

State lawmakers, who will craft the final budget for next year, can only approve or reject the funding formula submitted by the state board. They cannot change it.

The complex formula, called the Minimum Foundation Program or MFP, divvies up dollars to school districts based on the number and type of students and the individual districts' wealth.

Teacher union leader Steve Monaghan said neither a standstill formula or the regular 2.75 percent increase would be enough to properly cover the costs of educating public school students.

"The problem is that neither of these is based on classroom realities. In the past, we have lamented educational investments that were not large enough," Monaghan, the president of the Louisiana Federation for Teachers, said in a statement. "Today, we are still faced with a vision for our schools that is far too limited."

Though the funding formula will remain standstill, schools could lose other state dollars that flow through the education department and outside the formula. State board members said they expect as much as a 25 percent cut to that money.

Also, board members said the Jindal administration budget plan uses $71 million in federal stimulus money to keep the public school formula free of cuts. Board member Linda Johnson, of Plaquemine, said she worried about what happens to the formula funding when the federal dollars fall away in two years.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

Board vetoes Pastorek's proposals, suggests task force


By MELINDA DESLATTE

Associated Press Writer

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The state's top education board refused Wednesday to weigh in on a contentious package of proposals by state Education Superintendent Paul Pastorek to term limit local school boards, take away their pay and limit their authority.

Instead, a committee of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education suggested the Louisiana Legislature should form a task force to study the ideas. The full board will vote Thursday on the task force idea, but it will only be procedural because all members were at the committee meeting. Nine of the 11 board members voted for the task force.

Even as BESE requests the study, a group of organizations said they intend to pursue the changes to local school board governance in the upcoming legislative session in bills to be sponsored by Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge.

"I don't have a problem if the board wants to do a little task force, but this train has left the station. Legislation is being prepared and is going to be filed," Pastorek said.
Gov. Bobby Jindal on Wednesday said he supported the Pastorek proposals, particularly a change that would limit school boards' ability to influence the decisions of school superintendents.

"I want to applaud (Pastorek's) effort to change the way that we've done business here in Louisiana, and I'm especially ... supportive of the idea of giving more authority, more responsibility, to those that we have tasked with managing our schools," Jindal said.

Pastorek said he would sit down with local school board leaders next week to work on the proposals and suggested BESE delay making recommendations on the proposals until after that meeting. But BESE members proceeded with their task force recommendation instead.
Board members said it wasn't BESE's role to recommend legislation, but rather it should comment when measures are introduced.

"It came to my understanding that this is not a BESE issue, that this is an issue for the Legislature because of where the Legislature sits and what's in the Constitution," said member Linda Johnson, who sponsored the task force recommendation.

Supporters of the school board changes, however, said BESE removed itself from a debate that will happen anyway, when lawmakers meeting in a regular session that begins April 27 consider the bills.

Among Pastorek's proposals are: limiting how long school board members can serve, doing away with their salaries and capping their pay to expense reimbursement, restricting family of school board members working in the same districts and reducing authority of members in hiring and firing decisions.

Pastorek said the changes would modernize education and remove boards from micromanaging school systems. Local school board leaders describe the ideas as a Pastorek power grab, to take away authority from local officials and dismantle public education.

As he pledged Wednesday to meet with the local school boards, Pastorek repeated his intention to push for a revamp of the laws governing the boards.

"It's about getting new ideas to the table ... It's about getting integrity and competence into all of our board members ... It's about not being involved in the micromanagement of local superintendents," he said.

Local school board members spoke in support of a task force.

Russ Wise, a member of the school board in St. John the Baptist Parish, called a task force "a common sense approach of rather than having us throwing rocks at each other, taking some time and seeing if we can work together."

"I think it's a good first step for us to talk," said Clarence "Sonny" Savoie, a member of the St. Charles Parish School Board.

But representatives of three organizations — the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the Council for A Better Louisiana and the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana — said they will move ahead with the bills that Carter will introduce this session.

"We would hope that you wouldn't delay until next year on weighing on in on these things," said Barry Erwin, head of CABL.

The only BESE member who voted against the task force recommendation was Chas Roemer of Baton Rouge. Committee chair Louella Givens of New Orleans didn't vote.

"The history of a task force is it's a place where we send something to never hear from it again," Roemer said.

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, disagreed. He said the task force would let people set aside rhetoric and discuss best practices and ideas.

"A task force doesn't have to be a funeral procession," he said.
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On the Net:
BESE: www.doe.state.la.us/lde/bese/home.html

BRIEFS

State Department of Education to mail voucher information

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Thousands of New Orleans parents will soon be getting information about a voucher program that pays to send students of failing public schools to private schools instead.
The state Department of Education said Wednesday it's mailing out a packet with information about which students are eligible for the 2009-10 school year.
Among other criteria, eligible students must attend a failing New Orleans public school and be entering kindergarten or the first, second or third grade this fall.


STUDENT
SEXUAL ABUSE ABOUNDS AROUND THE STATE

St. Landry teacher arrested for sexual abuse


OPELOUSAS, La. (AP) — A St. Landry Parish elementary school teacher has been arrested for allegedly sexually abusing a 15-year-old male student.
Raymundo Clorio, a 31-year-old Lawtell Elementary School Spanish teacher, faces one count of sexual battery for the alleged incident.
School and police officials said they cannot go into further detail about the alleged crime, but said an investigation began March 3.
St. Landry Parish Superintendent Michael Nassif said Wednesday school administrators initially led the investigation and later turned over information to the St. Landry Parish Sheriff's Office.
The allegation led to Clorio's arrest on Tuesday.
Clorio is currently on administrative leave with pay.
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Information from: The Advertiser, http://www.theadvertiser.com


Former DeSoto Parish teacher faces more charges

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) — A former North DeSoto High School teacher could face five to 20 years in prison if convicted of having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student.
Authorities say 23-year-old Jada Hendrix, of Shreveport, turned herself in on Monday, where she was booked on a Shreveport Police Department warrant charging her with molestation of a juvenile.
She was freed on bond after spending less than four hours behind bars.
The arrest was the second in less than a week for the former English teacher. Hendrix was first arrested March 3 in DeSoto Parish, where she was charged with computer-aided solicitation of a juvenile.
Authorities say charges in both jurisdictions stem from Hendrix's alleged relationship with the male student.
Hendrix resigned her teaching position March 3 prior to her arrest.
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Information from: The Times, http://www.shreveporttimes.com

Teacher arrested in Allen Parish on abuse charge

GLENMORA, La. (AP) — An Allen Parish pre-kindergarten teacher is accused of having sex with a 16-year-old.
Authorities say 27-year-old Tiffany Nicole Steedman of Glenmora was released on $10,000 bond after her arrest last week on felony carnal knowledge of a juvenile and telephone harassment counts.
Rapides Assistant Chief Deputy Herman Walters on Monday said the arrest followed a monthlong investigation into allegations made by the Plainview boy's mother.
According to Walters, Steedman began having sex with the boy in her Rapides Parish home in November 2008.
Diane Marcantel, an official with the Allen Parish School Board, said Steedman is a first-year teacher at Elizabeth High School and previously taught in Rapides Parish.
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Information from: American Press, http://www.americanpress.com


More information is available at www.LouisianaSchools.net.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Jefferson Parish offers internship program for high school students

By JENNY HURWITZ
The Times-Picayune


NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The construction workers wiggled the wall-sized piece of synthetic siding left and then right, angling it against the half-finished shed in hopes of finding the perfect alignment.

After a number of tries, the workers, all students at Cuillier Career Center in Marrero, edged the board into place and held it still as Kourtney Jenkins, 17, used a cordless nail driver to drill the siding into place.

"It looks better than it did at first," said Jenkins afterward, as he surveyed the structure taking shape before his eyes. "Work still needs to be done. But it's going to look real nice."

For Jenkins and his classmates, the job of repairing the dilapidated storage shed on Cuillier's campus isn't merely a classroom assignment. It's part of a paid internship, created by the Jefferson Parish public school system, that gives students hands-on carpentry, maintenance and landscaping experience and provides them with an hourly, minimum wage and a weekly paycheck.

Currently, about 40 students are involved in the program, working three days a week, said Rita Foster, Cuillier's principal.

Early jobs have included a landscaping gig at the former Ruppel Academy campus in Marrero and the shed renovation at Cuillier. Eventually, the program will span the district, including repair and maintenance work at public schools across the parish, officials said.

"It really is training students how to go to work: what are the safety rules, how to be on time," said schools spokeswoman Beth Branley. "It's not only given them skills but real-world experience."

Such internships can be crucial in the construction industry, which requires workers to think on their feet and become comfortable with power tools, blueprints and less-than-perfect weather conditions, according to Dwayne Mathis, the carpentry instructor at Cuillier.

"Most of them have worked in fast-food restaurants, in controlled environments. But construction is totally different," Mathis said. "There are a lot more variables."

The program, originally conceived by Superintendent Diane Roussel, started with Cuillier's horticulture students, who landscaped the flower beds at the former Ruppel campus last year, using a mix of palm trees and rose bushes purchased by the district.

"It was gorgeous," said horticulture instructor Gwen Nelms, who estimated the landscaping work would have cost the district about $10,000 to contract out. "Everyone in the whole parish wanted one."

It was such a success that administrators from other schools started calling Cuillier, asking for landscaping help. Sensing an opportunity, officials decided to expand the program beyond horticulture and this year offered the extra payment incentive for students, financed through the general fund.

While Cuillier easily provides internships in other fields such as culinary arts or nursing, construction is a tougher prospect, due largely to age restrictions and insurance limitations imposed by construction sites, Foster said.

Desmond Houston, 18, was one of the first Cuillier students to benefit from the payment change this month.

"I was happy and surprised," he said, of his reaction upon receiving his check for $70. "I didn't know it would be that much."

Still, some students acknowledged that the experience has proved just as valuable as the money. Andrew Clark, 17, quickly listed about half a dozen skills he's learned through his internship, including hanging wallboard, cutting out windows and using a reciprocating saw. When asked about his future plans, he didn't hesitate.

"Building houses and carpentry," he said, standing next to the Cuillier shed. "Just basically what we're doing right here."

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Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com

Orleans schools show big gains, but experts say its thanks to Katrina

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans was one of 10 big-city school districts that scored at or above their state averages for student achievement in 2007, but that distinction comes with an asterisk, the author of a report released by an education think tank said Wednesday.

Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, said the same definition of districts was used as in analyzing student achievement scores from 2000. But Hurricane Katrina in 2005 changed the city's educational landscape.

For example, more than 100 schools fell under the New Orleans Public Schools system before Katrina; by 2007, after an overhaul of the city's long struggling public education system had begun, the local district retained control of a handful of schools — which also were among the best-performing in New Orleans.

The rest are now run by private organizations as charter schools or fall under the state-run Recovery School District. The recovery district last year estimated about 85 percent of its students were at least two years behind grade level in reading and math.

Loveless said charter, recovery district, alternative and laboratory schools were not included in the New Orleans Public Schools' score.

"Obviously, New Orleans is a special case and is singled out as such in the report," Loveless said, adding he is not confident saying New Orleans' schools overall have made the level of progress indicated in the report.

"There just have been so many other things that have gone on in New Orleans from 2000 to 2007, it's definitely with an asterisk."