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Charting a New Course

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An inspired principal sees his innovative charter school as a way to make a difference

NOL_Sept_07_Page_30_Image_0001.jpgHow would you summarize the difference between the charter school system and the parish schools?

The charter school system represents a true entrepreneurial spirit in education. Each of the groups articulates a unique mission, and each has a unique approach to the curriculum.

Is there already available measurability that shows the difference between the two (in terms of educational progress or otherwise)?

The real test will be this coming school year, especially January to May. The spring of 2008 will tell us just how successful we are compared to the recovery schools in Orleans Parish. So far, however, the early signs are good.

How has the charter system improved on what we had before with the parish schools?

The charter system has led to circumstances that definitely create better schools for disadvantage kids. That is to say economically disadvantaged kids.

How does a student get to enroll in your school?

We have an open admissions policy. There are no geographic boundaries. However, we hope to someday have neighborhood schools again.

You have a rather unique approach to your curriculum. You don’t have the traditional schedule of classes in each subject every day. How does your curriculum work?

We were scheduling each subject for two weeks at a time. So, for example, the kids would have English for two weeks, then math for two weeks and continue in that manner. Now, we are going to a schedule where we have the core approach: two subjects in the mornings–one from 8:00 to 10:00 a.m., then the next from 10:00 to noon. Then, we will have electives such as sports, art, and music in the afternoons. What is important for us is that we create an environment in which kids learn how to learn.

Are you ever concerned that the state or parish may want to take control of the charter schools?

If a school is failing, the parish could take it over. However, they would have to prove that they could do at least as well as the charter school before this could happen.

What about the story of the “edible classroom”? How is that working? What benefits to students derive from it?

That was a gift from Alice Waters. She is the California restaurateur who owns Chez Panisse in Berkeley. She got involved with a middle school near her restaurant and got kids actually cultivating a garden at school. So our kids are doing it here. They grow strawberries, lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, and we also have a butterfly and flower garden. The vegetables they grow actually make it to their lunch table. It’s great to see how the kids really get into it. They are very excited when they see their results.

Do you have sports or physical fitness activities at your school?

We are going to have flag football and soccer this year.

What other activities should students pursue?

We have also had an outdoor education program. We have had activities such as wilderness camping, canoeing, how to set up a tent, and how to appreciate the environment. We want to expose kids to as much as we can make available to them. We’ve also had things as diverse as a bicycle repair class and Mardi Gras Indian costume making. We feel that the more we can enrich their environment, the better it is for the kids.

How would your students compare to those at other schools?

We can see our results in the overall demeanor of the kids. We see much improved skills at both the social and academic levels. The results show that it takes a wellrounded program, and we are seeing the rewards.