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School Choice

New Orleans has some new winter and spring rituals for public education. Starting in January, our streets are lined with signs advertising different charter schools. A month ago, a couple of local organizations sponsored a major school fair on a Saturday. Yard signs, email announcements, and flyers at schools abounded. But on the day of the fair, more school representatives than parents were in attendance. In fact attendance was so poor that the deadline for applying to schools was pushed back a few weeks.

In the next few blogs, we will feature student writing on issues of school choice, neighborhood schools, and school reform. School choice is not new to New Orleans. It is just more pervasive now. It also has happened with little dialogue and without careful, strategic planning.

Today’s essay is by Jade Fleury, a senior at McMain Secondary School, which switched from a selective admissions to an open admissions school after Katrina.

I Don’t Know Why You Care So Much
Jade Fleury

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“Jade, I don’t know why you care so much anyway.”

“Umm could it be you’re my boyfriend and I care and I know you’re too smart to be going to a stupid school like John Mac?”

“Man look, all I’m trying to do is graduate. And you know we’re not going to be doing any work, so I might as well go to the Mac and make it easier on myself.”

“Whatever Keith, that’s all on you.”

Getting into minor arguments about where my ex-boyfriend, Keith, should go to school after Hurricane Katrina was not uncommon. He had his idea of what he thought would be best for him, and I had mine. These ideas were never the same. He’d often tell me why he should go to John Mac versus going to McMain. “Man look, if I go to McMain, I’m bound to get put out anyway. I don’t fool with nobody who goes there, and I’m not trying to do no work. So it’d just make more sense for me to go to the Mac.”

After hearing those similar words after every argument, I began to keep my mouth shut, but not my ears. I would always hear him say how much fun he’d have at school, how all of his friends were going and that he couldn’t wait for school to start. But never did it seem to cross his mind that he’d get a better education if he went to McMain. Or maybe it did, but he was more concerned about having fun. Or could it have been that he never had intentions of going to college, so going to a school like McMain that would look good on applications to college didn’t matter. I often wondered why his mother didn’t push him to go to a better school. She, just like me, knew her son was capable of the work. But never did she step in to say, “Keith should go to a better school than John McDonogh.”

Besides, many people of my generation could care less what high school they attend. What are they to do? They don’t have adamant parents pushing them to do better, and most of their peers feel the same as they do. Should we continue to go on and forget about other young people like Keith?

Being around my ex-boyfriend and other close friends, who also like Keith chose to go to the lower performing schools that are not based on “choice” and are now run by the state after Katrina, has made me realize that as long as the school system provides them with two very different atmospheres, there will always be segregation within New Orleans school system. Continuing to keep us apart is slowly destroying the gender relationships between us. For example, in my Creative Writing class at McMain we learned that out of the 7 females in the class, only 1 of them would consider dating a male from McMain. It’s obvious something is missing. Why is it we’d rather date a guy from John Mac or Sarah T. Reed? The separation is making many females like myself stray away from the males that we attend school with, slowly tearing apart our social networks and future families.

Who’s to say I can’t benefit from Keith? Perhaps he knows something I don’t, or vice versa. We should be able to collectively put our ideas together and help one another. Bringing us together will then show the system that it is very possible for both Keith and I to attend school together and learn. Who knows? Maybe the adamancy I posses about school will rub off on people like Keith and motivate them to do better. If this is so, why are we developing more and more separate schools and school systems and not more neighborhood schools that the whole diversity of young people in a neighborhood attend.

When will Keith and I learn together in the same school? What system of schools will make that choice possible?

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