Public criticizes Mcdonough 35 High School teacher shortage at OPSB town hall
The bulk of public comment from the Orleans Parish School Board’s (OPSB) town hall in Gentilly centered on how the board’s findings from their citywide survey reflected on the current running of Mcdonough 35 High School.
Superintendent Ph.D. Henderson Lewis, Jr. lead the last in a series of city town hall meetings organized by the Orleans Parish School Board. The meetings were aimed at engaging the community, sharing findings from a citywide survey, and inviting public comment.
“Even still today, we have a fragmented school board,” Lewis said.” We have some schools in the Orleans Parish School Board, and we have some schools in the Recovery School District.”
Lewis shared the top concerns the OPSB received back from the public in their March citywide survey: teacher shortages, transportation, and the quality of schools, curriculum, and teachers.
Lewis said that the teacher shortage is currently relevant to all of New Orleans..
“We’re in trouble with this right now,” Lewis said. “I’m just going to be honest.”
A senior student attending Mcdonough 35 High School later mentioned the shortage at her school.
“We don’t have enough teachers here, and they’re more worried about our uniforms than our education,” she said.
Another student agreed with her about the school’s focus on uniforms, rather than curriculum, such as addressing their class schedules. She claimed she was taking one of the same classes again this year.
About 750 students responded to the OPSB survey in March, according to Lewis.
A mother of a freshman attending Mcdonough 35 shared her worries about him coming home and having three to four teachers that were not at school that day. She explained that he’s not able to get anything done on time, such as taking tests and exams, and that she’s confused, since all his teachers were staffed during orientation.
“It’s very disturbing,” she said.
Others asked if the OPSB had plans for supporting teachers or keeping them and where were their replacements for positions not currently staffed.
Lewis said that educators do happen to switch schools during the school year, whether a position is offering higher pay or not. He also spoke to how different schools approach supporting their teachers.
“Some schools are compensating their teachers more than others,” Lewis said.
He assured audience members that the board is interviewing candidates now for these positions they are noticing vacant from students’ schools. According to Lewis, some interviews occurred earlier that evening.
Frank Rabalais, Gentilly Terrace and Gardens Improvement Association president, suggested that successful schools like Warron Easton should possibly open another school. The superintendent mentioned in his presentation that about three students each will be fighting over one open seat in applying for Warron Easton, because there’s only so much open space available.
“Because of current school board policy, I’m able to contemplate a future for my children in New Orleans,” Rabalais said. “I welcome a future where there are options for my child, not just Lusher, but options.”
Rabalais commended Lewis and his administration for both their work to give students and families options and for charter school education in New Orleans.
A charter school employee voiced that charters schools should look to focus more on neighborhoods, speaking to transportation problems in the public school system.
“If you don’t have a neighborhood school, you don;t have to pay for school buses, and you can use that money to pay your teachers,” she said.
Lewis said that transportation is a problem that can be more easily solved, once the problem of school quality is addressed. He said he understands parents sending their children to schools farther away from their homes, due to the desire a for quality education.
In closing the meeting, the superintendent said the OPSB does have struggles and that they acknowledged them.
“I’ve heard a lot of comments about Mcdonough 35 today,” Lewis said.
The Orleans Parish School Board will be taking back all their remaining schools from the Recovery School District, as late as 2019. Lewis said the board plans to be managing 80 schools in July 2018 and that the concerns outlined through their engagement with the public will be at the forefront of the issues they tackle moving forward in school years.
“I will say we’ve made a lot of progress in the last 12 years, but we are nowhere near where we need to be,” Lewis said.