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Are We Having Fun Yet?


During my 32-year career as an educator, I was approached on several occasions by people who wanted to know if I had considered applying for the Superintendency in the New Orleans Public Schools. This was more prevalent after I received my Ph.D. in 1998. From my perspective, there were several reasons why I would never be a superintendent. None of them had anything to do with the requisite skills needed to do the job well. It was always my feeling that the most important thing a superintendent had to do was to build a strong leadership team of moral, transformational people who had a real focus on academic achievement and were committed to actions that were in the district’s best interest. I could do that.

My main reservation about that type of high profile position was the constant public scrutiny it created for the “poster boy” or “poster girl” who became the face and voice of the district. I did not have the right attitude. A superintendent has to be ready and on call 24/7/365. I never wanted to be recognized by strangers and approached about school issues while shopping for underwear in J.C. Penney or during the sign of peace in Mass on Sunday. I didn’t want to have my private time with my family infringed upon by calls from employees when the heating system failed on frigid winter mornings or air conditioners died in New Orleans’ sweltering August temperatures. I didn’t want to worry about transportation breaking down, late food service deliveries, building repairs, and theft of new televisions still in the boxes, operating budgets, grant writing, health and welfare benefits, job actions, or any of the myriad problems that plague the leader of a school district. No amount of money could ever tempt me to pursue the position that would put me at the top of this persistent heap of challenges. I saw myself as a worker bee, never the queen of the hive.

And yet, I seem to have stumbled (or been thrust) to the top of the swell in my role as President of a charter school board. Writing a blog about “how we are coping with the challenges and overcoming the obstacles” of starting over in the new landscape of education in New Orleans shines a light on our situation and I am caught in that limelight that gets brighter all the time. It’s a small price to pay, if I can help the rest of the nation to understand what’s happening to our schools post-Katrina. How hard can it be for a retired principal and Area Superintendent?

Last week, on January 2, I decided not to return a phone call to a reporter. It was not personal. I just wanted to celebrate my New Year’s holiday week in anonymity. At holiday parties and gatherings, I have been assailed with questions about our school as a result of being the subject of the top news story on December 17, 2007. I did television interviews for every local news station and the daily paper. I’m sorry if you are a new reader and don’t know to what news story I am referring. It will hence forth be referred to as “That which shall not be named,” TWSNBN. I want to go back to being incognito, at least until I lose about 25 pounds. It’s true what they say about the two-dimensional images of television making you look fatter (at least I hope so). Anyway, the article on the FRONT page of today’s newspaper won’t help. Not talking to reporters doesn’t matter, if you’ve written a blog that can be quoted about their topic. [You win, Sarah.] But, for me, reflecting and writing about problems is cathartic; talking about them and answering questions in an interview is taxing. I’d like a minute to move out of the public eye, to hide in plain sight. Here is the link to the news story. Please indulge me and finish reading my story first.


Years ago, in 1995, I received a huge honor when I was selected Elementary Principal of the Year by the State of Louisiana. Winners from each state received a free trip to Washington D.C. where we were feted in a formal dinner and awards ceremony. We received lots of prizes including a $1,000 personal cash award and computer programs for our schools. This was one of the highlights of my career. One of my most prized possession is an engraved school bell from NAESP. Luckily, it did not get damaged in the Katrina flood waters that ravaged most of my school treasures at home because it was proudly on display in the third floor corner office where I worked.

When I returned home to New Orleans, after the National Distinguished Principals award ceremony, it was nearing the end of the school year. I had made a “bet” with the students that they could not read 2,500 books in the last weeks of the semester. Since I shared that I kept a book next to my bed to read myself to sleep every night, the students picked that visual as the price I would pay, if I lost the bet. I knew that I had “lost” when I saw the school’s librarian rolling carts of books onto the playground during recess. Throughout the final week of school at recess time, all around the hot asphalt yard, groups of students could be seen engaged in reading library books and swapping stories instead of throwing footballs and jumping double-dutch.

On the day that I appeared for morning assembly in blue satin lounging pajamas, fuzzy slippers, and bright yellow hair rollers (partially hidden under a scarf), the children celebrated a day that went down in the school’s history of special memories. The yard was packed with parents and other spectators who came, specifically, to see me pay up my debt. Mixed in the crowd were the news cameras of the station that had the cable access agreement. They had arrived on that day, of all days, to film an interview with the Principal of the Year. My image in PJs, hair curlers, and fuzzy rabbit slippers was replayed every 30 minutes on the news for at least 12 hours. Even with my hair combed and in business attire, people recognized my face in stores and public places all over the city for years after that debut. It was a little embarrassing, but lots of fun. I did it for the students and I’d do it again.

In my new role with the charter school, I keep asking myself “Are we having fun yet?”


I am a teacher at McDonogh #42 school. I choose not to give my name because Dr. Roslyn Smith has shown a vindictive nature that I choose not to cross at this time.

Dr. Roslyn Smith is giving her version of the story of the McDonogh #42 school problems. Every story has at least two versions. I assure the readers that at the time of our sickout, the school was not in a teaching mode because of the directive by Dr. Roslyn Smith that each grade level was to produce a major Christmas presentation. No child could read; all parts were to be memorized, etc. Money was spent all over the school building - carpenters built simulated fireplaces (about 8 of these), and other expenditures such as electricians running special power to the large Christmas tree in the lobby.

One of our teachers who was one of the outspoken ones at the meeting with the board and Dr. Roslyn Smith has now been fired. It is my understanding that no teaching is now going on in this class because the substitute teacher cannot teach the 8th grade Mathematics. Where is the concern for the children here?

This fired teacher stated in the meeting with the board that he would teach for free because he loved these children so much.

Roslyn, we are a group of teachers that was brought together by the former Principal. She did not have to work hard to recruit us because we knew of her record of improving scores everywhere she has been. We knew the atmosphere she would keep in the school to allow us teachers to teach. Some of us have worked with her at her other schools. Roslyn, the schools you ran did not improve their scores while you were there.

Ok, good. The other side of the story. I have been curious about the ideas of Christmas presents and gift certificates and wondered what purpose they have served to the overall role of educating children. I think it would be helpful to hear about the school's perspective on serving children who live in poverty and the approach ACADEMICALLY to meeting their needs in the classroom. Celebrating the holidays can be memorable, and I am still against the sickout, but I am beginning to wonder what the plan is to get McDonogh 42 to a place of scholastic significance in the lives of students. I am still following the story and hoping for the best, and I am curious about what the best actually is for these kids and teachers--money spent on Christmas items, or time invested in the classroom materials and teacher support. Curious how things will turn out.

I welcome the comments of anyone who reads this blog. It is one way to share what we are learning in the new charter school movement in New Orleans. Obviously, other people will have their opinions about what I write. There are lessons to be learned from all accounts.

As a rule, I don’t respond to anonymous messages. Today, I will respond to the anonymous writer because that person and anyone else who has incorrect information deserve the truth. I don’t think this is one of our teachers, however. The comment was posted at 2:20 p.m. today and our school does not dismiss until 3:00 p.m. I doubt that we have teachers who are using instructional time to blog.

I don’t have a vindictive nature, as I have demonstrated in all of my comments about this unfortunate turn of events. I have had several face-to-face conversations with employees since the “sickout.” They can tell you that there have not been nor will there be any reprisals against those who were absent on December 17th. No one should worry about his or her employment at McDonogh 42 Elementary Charter School, if he or she is truly concerned about the students. Unlike many of the charter schools and RSD schools in New Orleans, our certified teachers have contracts to protect their jobs. They are not “at will” employees because the TCSA Board wanted them to have job security as they rebuild our schools (and their homes).

First, understand that I did not give any directive about a Christmas program. That's not true. It disturbs me to read that this teacher believes “that at the time of our sickout, the school was not in a teaching mode.” Our school improvement consultant was in the building assessing classroom instruction that week and formal observations were being conducted by the administrator. Anyone who thinks the program was my idea needs to go back to the person who told you to prepare for the program or ask the former principal where that directive originated. I did remind the principal about sending out holiday assignments and study guides to prepare for the end of semester exams and she responded by including my suggestion verbatim in her monthly staff notes. We also asked the teachers to decorate their classroom doors using student art work for a contest to be judged by members of the Board. The students loved it.

Our maintenance contract allows us to do minor improvements without additional costs. We added electrical outlets to the front foyer of the school, when several teachers asked about the feasibility of placing a decorated tree in that area. We also added outlets to the cafeteria for the steamer, in the corridor for electrical water fountains, and to the business office to move computer hook ups. We also asked the maintenance men to build plywood covers for the defunct heaters that were an eyesore in the corridors. They will serve as display areas for students’ projects. It did not cost us anything extra to do these improvements. Some of the more creative teachers decorated the heater covers with paper that looked like fireplaces. I hope this anonymous person took time to notice the other jobs we completed including adding locks to all of the classrooms, fixing the holes in the playground asphalt, and repairing the large hole in the fence.

The $25 gift certificates to the teachers were purchased from Teacher Stop, a local teacher supply store. We wanted to help our teachers with this token gift because we know that they spend their own funds for children all the time. I did not think it was a waste. We sent an average of $2.00 per child for their gifts. Most of the lottery gifts were donated by generous staff and friends.

After the teachers met with the new principal, everyone was given a choice to honor their contracts or leave TCSA’s employment. Only one person, who was not under contract decided to leave. He was not teaching for free; he was highly paid in a special arrangement at the request of the principal. I was not involved in this consultant/teacher’s decision or separation. The new principal wants to go in a different direction. The Board is honoring his request as we did with the former principal.

Finally, I was principal of only one school. I don’t know to what “schools” the anonymous writer is referring. I can say that some of the teachers currently at McDonogh 42 were with me at Haley when we received a state award for Exemplary Academic Growth. We made steady incremental progress for several years in a row in a school with extremely high poverty and homeless rates. When I left the school, seven of these same teachers transferred as a group and made their new school one of the highest improving schools in the district, pre-Katrina.

I was the Area Superintendent who supervised that school and McDonogh 42’s former principal. Teachers made the difference. I hope that anyone who is still teaching at our school has decided to work hard for the good of the students and put the issue of the changing administration aside. The charter school board will honor the contracts we gave out. Our employees are expected to do the same until the school year ends. At that time, anyone who is inclined to leave can do so with our best wishes for their future endeavors. Those who are committed to the Treme Charter School Association’s written charter plans will be welcomed back next year to continue creating the best school we know how.

Dr. Smith forcefully denies that she directed the teachers of McDonogh 42 to present a Christmas program. "Anyone who thinks the program was my idea needs to go back to the person who told you to prepare for the program!" she states... deeply offended, of course. Why don't we just 'go back' to her December 5th blog? She is "stuck in the house planning fun activities for the school." I counted ten events that she planned for the month of December, and still she claims to "need dates for several other activities". It's quite obvious who really wanted that Christmas program. Why is it so hard to tell the truth?

Dr. Smith denies being spiteful.
"I don't have a vindictive nature as demonstrated by my comments", she says. We all know that actions speak louder than words... and Dr. Smith is so good with words...... but the truth is the truth, regardless of how eloquently lies are expressed.

The Math teacher was fired. He was related to the former principal, and had to go, didn't he? Never mind that he was an outstanding teacher, a male----so desperately needed in education--- and one of the few who could not only effectively handle 8th graders, but also inspire and teach. The children adored him. And did I mention, he has an engineering degree? He was fired, and we know why. Those eight graders must pass the LEAP test in 30 days in order to be promoted to the next grade. They have no Math teacher. He was fired because of an egomaniac's vindictiveness. We know.

Dr. Smith is an experienced educator.... blah blah blah....we all know..... she toots her own horn so frequently. Just a quick glance at these blogs....anyone can tell it's all about Dr. Smith "I was Principal of the Year." "People asked me why I wasn't Superintendent." And so on... Practically every other word is "I" or "me". She SAYS that it's all about the children, but we know better. She is just playing school. . . playing with people's lives. Playing. . . when we so desperately need help.

I am not anonymous. I teach in New Orleans, but not at McDonogh 42. Many people know what's really going on over there. We pray that things will somehow improve.

I'm choosing to withhold my name because I know the blogger personally and I know that she would caution me against commenting here, but I feel that something must be said to people who don't have the courage to make bold criticisms to someone's face. Grow up, people.

To the anonymous poster who teaches at McDonough 42: you are a joke. I've seen the decorations in the schools with my own eyes. No one built any faux-fireplaces. Do you know what they were made from? Bulletin board paper. The same stuff that THOUSANDS of teachers the world over decorate their classrooms with. How is it a problem that someone who is on the McD42 payroll chose to, on the weekend, tape up decorations in a school whose students, by and large, will not have exposure to decorations, presents, or Christmas as their middle-class counterparts know it? Does that take away from learning?

I went to NOPS. Our building was always decorated to the nines. We had cultural presentations at least once a month if not more. It is called ENRICHMENT. Learn it. If there is one thing the children of Treme need, it is enrichment. Ride around the neighborhood and take a good look. Enrichment can come in a variety of forms, many of which the school is in a position to provide.

School is not just about practicing for the LEAP test. It is undoubtedly important, but so are other things. I wouldn't want a child to go to a warehouse of a school where the only activities were LEAP prep. LEAP should not be the only objective for a child's education. Education at its best should inspire, intrigue, and engage children. LEAP will get them to the next grade, but a REAL education not based around high-stakes testing will do more for a child than a standardized test ever could. Would you want your child to go to a school where educators were solely focused on preparing your child for a single test, or were intent on giving them the tools to appreciate and excel in life?

My Apologies!!!

Dr. Smith, I am sorry to jump to these conclusions or to simply accept what anonymous people say are "facts"--sorry, sorry, sorry. I am so interested in what is happening that I think I got a little carried away. It is the new phenomenon of blogging (and I might add, the web-based comment section on the TP website)that creates a digital record. This can make people a little gung-ho in their comments. I am sure you feel pretty exposed and I don't want to add to that. Anyone can write whatever they want and there is no protection against ignorance. I do think that most people should recognize the subjective nature of blogging and the appropriateness of the first person perspective.

The job you have is not easy, but the dialog about charters is helpful to readers. Thank you for answering my questions, too, that was helpful. I don't disagree that monetary gifts are nice and that small things for students can be memorable. I am still really interested in the social/economic dynamics at your school and would be interested to read about the academic decisions your teachers are able to make as faculty at a charter school. What innovative and creative things are happening there? How are students flourishing? Thanks!!!

An apology is not necessary, but appreciated. When I was invited to write this blog, I knew what I was doing and what type of exposure it could create for me. Readers will have to accept that I am telling the story as I see it. As a charter board member, I work because I want to change how our schools operate. No one twisted my arm or forced me to apply for the school's charter or to take on the responsibility of serving as Board President. It's a lot more work than I ever imagined. But, we have employees and families who are depending on us to build an effective school. I work almost every day on something for the school. My contract is a moral one. I won't quit, even when the people I am working for are not satisfied with my efforts.

No one has to read what I write, nor do they have to agree with what they read here. I have made a decision to keep the dialogue open, even though I won't respond to everything people write. I could delete the negative comments from the site, but I want the readers to experience what I am living as much as possible. I take the good with the bad (as long as it is not extreme, vulgar, or inappropriate). I hope more readers will understand that comments are written by people who know some of the story but not all of it. Also, there are things that I will not share in this venue, even though they may clear up misconceptions presented by posted comments.

It is a wonderful opportunity to give my perspective on the development of charter schools in New Orleans. I also communicate with many readers via email. For their own reasons, they choose not to post comments on the blog site. I welcome the dialogue with people like yourself who are truly interested in our school's development. I will try to answer your questions. I take great pains to write clearly. Sometimes when people try to "read between the lines" they see things that are not really there. I can only suggest that they read it again without their personal edits.

I used to write on the NOLA.com education forum years ago. The tone has changed in recent years and I understand that reference. It would be helpful if more people had specific questions about the growth and changes we are experiencing. I agreed to write my opinions for Education Week's online publication several times each week for the remainder of the school year. Stay with me and we can both learn a few things.

I hope to keep this blog focused on the things that you mentioned. I consider blogging for edweek.org the privilege of a lifetime. All educators should be so lucky!

To the anonymous poster who belittled the McDonogh 42 teacher for remainig anonymous.........yes, strange isn't it?
You say that she or he is a joke for witholding a name....yet you do the same. Interesting!

You state that we don't have the courage to make bold criticisms to someone's face---we remember that the first person to do that lost her job.

So, you walked into the school one day and figured everything out...or did your friend fill you in with her slant on things? The fireplaces WERE made of wood---carpenters came to the school and covered the heating units with PLYWOOD. THEN, teachers decorated them with paper. Teachers were taken out of class to plan the decorations for the doors and the buildings. Teachers were asked to use instructional time to rehearse for Christmas programs. The list goes on and on.

Yes, our children deserve the same as their middle class counterparts, but they ARE NOT middle class. They are mostly children of poverty who have been shortchanged for years by a pitiful school system. Most of them were performing several years below grade level before BEFORE KATRINA. After the storm they missed months of instruction---some children were out of school for a year. Now, they are LOST. What we owe them...and MUST provide....is a world class education---just like their middle class counterparts get.

That's what the former principal believed which went against the wishes and philosophy of Dr. Smith. These children need to catch uo NOW or they will be lost forever. THERE IS NO TIME TO WASTE!

So you went to NOPS with your cultural enrichment programs and decorated buildings. NOPS---the same system that failed our children.

It's time to get serious and teach our students how to read, write, calculate, and think. It's not about preparing for the LEAP test---it's about learning.

You are right, NolaTeacher. Choosing to withhold my name while criticizing another anonymous poster for doing the same is in fact hypocritical. Bully for you.

Who made criticisms to the blogger's face? I'm wondering and "lost" her job, as you put it. As far as I know, no one lost their job at all. The person of whom you speak could not in good conscience say she was fired on television during an interview because she wasn't. She chose to leave. Why are you so hung up on someone who would willingly abandon the children of the school and the staff she herself created? I'm confused.

You're obsessed with the notion of bias and slant from the perspective of the blogger, but perhaps your knowledge of events (as you claim to be a teacher from NOLA and not McD 42) is equally if not more slanted in the opposite direction. Have you ever considered that? Probably not as all you are interested in doing is criticism.

My question to you is as follows: Have you read the TCSA charter document? I won't anticipate your answer, however I will lay out one of the finer points. Cultural activities are a large chunk of what the school is aiming to provide. It is a STATED GOAL that the state board of education has accepted. The idea of having renowned Jazz musicians or presentations with the Mardi Gras Indians (both markers of culture traditional to the neighborhood) is not something that happened willy-nilly. If any malcontents wanted a different educational experience why did they not choose to work at or send their children to any of the RSD schools in the city.

Dr. Smith's philosophy, as you put it, is not hers, but that of the board and the school. You can learn to read, write, calculate, think, and prepare for LEAP while being enriched at the same time. That should be the goal of any school. It will only succeed if people can stop being petty and choose to either work towards a common goal or jump ship because they are uncomfortable of the philosophy as stated in the charter written by the ENTIRE board and approved by the state.

Perhaps the best thing about charter schools is that each school is allowed to decide what they think is important to education and then to incorporate that into the curriculum. Some schools stress bilingual education, others stress the arts. If you don't like the idea, the answer is simple: choose another school.

Your characterization of the blogger as vindictive is especially troubling as, on that point, you could not be more wrong. A vindictive move would have been to somehow penalize all of the teachers who decided that politics were more important than instructional time with the students on the Monday before Christmas. Yet no such thing occurred. And do you know why? Because it was in everyone's best interest to move on. People like you who are intent on keeping ill will alive make it impossible for improvement and change to occur. Be a part of the solution, not the problem.

Here's a thought for you: if you don't like the blogger, don't waste your time reading the blog.

Dear Witheld,
I will no longer waste my time reading this blog, but not because I don't like the blogger. I have just learned that the blogger edits and deletes the responses. She mentions in one of her responses that she has the power to edit, but refuses to do so because she wants an open forum. Again, she lies. Yesterday, I wrote a lengthy letter asking why the school has no social worker, librarian, nurse, or LIBRARY. Dr. Smith chose not to place it in the forum because she does not want others to know the truth...or she was unable to put her spin on the topic. I doubt that you will ever see this----she'll most likely delete it. How many other responses have you deleted? Dr. Smith, how can you face yourself in the mirror?

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • NolaTeacher: Dear Witheld, I will no longer waste my time reading read more
  • Withheld: You are right, NolaTeacher. Choosing to withhold my name while read more
  • NolaTeacher: To the anonymous poster who belittled the McDonogh 42 teacher read more
  • Roslyn: Jeanne, An apology is not necessary, but appreciated. When I read more
  • Jeanne: My Apologies!!! Dr. Smith, I am sorry to jump to read more



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