Voters in New Orleans will fill six of seven Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) seats on Nov. 6. One incumbent, District 5 board member Seth Bloom, has been re-elected without opposition. The six other incumbents are seeking re-election. School board elections are always important, but this year's contests are especially critical. Board members are expected to hire a new superintendent soon, and the next board must continue the ongoing discussion of how best to return once-failing schools from the purview of the Recovery School District (RSD) to local control. Here are our recommendations.
District 1: Heidi Lovett Daniels — Daniels was a standout on the board during her one term of service, from 2005 to 2009, and she was elected the board's vice president during that time. A veteran teacher (she currently teaches math at Southern University), Daniels has an excellent grasp of the issues that confront the system: a chasm between charter proponents who like the improved student test scores and those who think Orleans teachers and parents have been lost in the charter shuffle; concerns that charter schools fail to serve special-needs students; and the need to hire a new superintendent who has a record of academic achievement in an urban system. Daniels has a knack for education policy and an ability to work with the state Department of Education to improve the communication between the two often-competing entities. The school board needs Heidi Daniels.
District 2: Cynthia Cade — Cade has served eight years on the board and was part of the team that helped turn around the system's finances after Hurricane Katrina. An educator by profession, she applauds the increased levels of community involvement and on-site autonomy at many charter schools, but she also gives credence to widespread charges of a lack of transparency in the governance of some charters. She pledges to seek a new superintendent who understands the unique educational culture in New Orleans post-Katrina.
District 3: Sarah Newell Usdin — A dynamic leader in the charter schools, accountability, and Teach For America movements even before Katrina, Usdin founded the New Schools for New Orleans organization that helped more communities get charter schools in their neighborhoods after the storm. Now she wants to bring her impressive energy and two decades of educational experience to the local school board to work for continued reforms from the inside. She knows education policy thoroughly, and her only focus would be public education — not politics. We think she would be an excellent addition to the school board.
District 4: Lourdes Moran — Moran, a senior member of the board in terms of longevity, has been OPSB president for one year and vice-president for five. She led the effort to put the board's financial house in order after Katrina and helped raise its bond rating by testifying before Moody's and Standard & Poor's. She rejects a one-size-fits-all approach to returning Orleans schools back to local control from the RSD. While she admires the autonomy of charter programs, she wants to see more transparency in charter governance. We agree with that approach. It should be noted Moran's opponent, Leslie Ellison, testified for state Sen. A.G. Crowe's, R-Slidell, controversial bill to allow discrimination at charter schools based on sexual orientation. The bill was widely panned as gay bashing.
District 6: Woody Koppel — A four-year incumbent and former public school teacher, Koppel points out that under the "new" board, local public schools are seeing the state's best high school "cohort" graduation rate in the state (93 percent among classmates who started together in ninth grade). He credits much of the system's academic improvement to charter successes but correctly notes that the multi-tiered local charter system can be unnecessarily confusing to parents, particularly when it comes to who's in charge of individual charter schools. He has a thorough grasp of education policy issues and consistently brings a levelheaded approach to decision-making.
District 7: Thomas Robichaux — Another four-year incumbent, Robichaux has been a positive and energetic force on the board. He currently serves as the board's president. While he would like to see more schools return from the RSD to local control, he says that returning all schools at once, right away, would be unwise. He favors moving RSD schools back over time so the board can prepare to oversee them properly. "The system is not yet completely fixed, but it's much improved and on the right track," he says. We agree, and we support his re-election.