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Where the Rubber Meets the Road


It’s been one hell of a week in New Orleans. The weather has gone from beautiful, windy spring days to frighteningly stormy nights. We’ve had tornado warnings and now the Mississippi river is cresting at a level much higher than usual. These weather changes shouldn’t cause too much concern, but there’s something in the air that has folks jittery.

Our Board meeting was today and after three hours we had discussed a multitude to topics. I had thought that the 2008 -2009 school calendar proposal would generate the most discussion. It didn’t. I had a notion the upcoming National Charter School Conference that will be in New Orleans in June would excite everyone. It didn’t. I figured everyone would be interested in the financial reports. Not. These topics were treated routinely.

Not surprisingly, the topic that stimulated everyone the most was a report by the principal on the current academic standing and demographic retention analysis for our students. We finally have some diagnostic data on reading for all of the students. It’s something I was desperate to have at the beginning of the year, but it was not to be so. We examined the second DIBELS results for grades K-3. 32% still need intensive instruction in reading. 46% are on level. The rest are at the Strategic level, meaning they are at some risk.

Our Lexile/Scholastic Reading Inventory results were equally shocking. We completed testing for all but one class of students in grades three through eight. Six students were Above Grade Level. 80 were On Grade Level. 63 were Below Grade Level. 68 were Far Below Grade Level. Overall, about 60% of our students are below level in reading. It was probably worse back in August when school started. None of this is really news, but we didn’t have the statistical data to quantify our problems before now.

The principal shared a Retention Analysis Report that examined the age appropriateness of our students in seventh and eighth grade. Although I was familiar with some of this data, several of the other Board members hadn’t seen the figures presented so starkly. In one eighth grade class, only three of the sixteen students were in the correct grade. All of the others had repeated grades once or twice. Almost 50% of the seventh grade class failed LEAP in fourth grade. 28% of our current eighth grade class failed LEAP last year. One girl celebrated her Sweet Sixteenth birthday last October at our elementary school. That one made me want to cry.

Earlier in the meeting we were bickering about something inconsequential on the organizational chart. In retrospect, I’m sorry we wasted precious minutes on that when we could have been trying to figure out what to do for our children who are so desperately in need of our help. We have a basal series, but we don’t have a school reading plan so far. It is at the top of our list for the summer teacher institute.

Several sparks of brilliance did come out of the discussion including a summer program for rising eighth grade students and fourth grade students who must take the high stakes tests, a parent involvement component to show parents what is happening to students who do not have strong academic support, enrichment activities so that students will be more interested in and excited about attending school, revamping of the middle school program, and intensive professional development for our teachers.

I’m also hoping that someone in the edweek.org audience will have some ideas to offer. I don’t want to hear from vendors who troll these blogs to sell their programs. I’d rather hear from practitioners who have had success with programs that target severely at-risk students. We need some help.


I have just started reading your blog, and it saddens/gladdens me all at once. I left OPSB and moved to Marietta, Ga in 1992. I teach Orchestra and Piano to 180 students at McEachern HS in Powder Springs, GA now, my 33rd year of teaching. Keep it up and keep me informed. I know there is a NO Strings Project going and how wonderful that would be for the Treme community; perhaps there is a chance for that? Anyway, thanks for your blog!

I am determined to have a viable music program next year. Currently, we don't have any musical instruments or an instrumental music teacher. We do have a vocal music teacher. I had to start a music program from scratch once before. This time I have a little money to get things off the ground. Thanks for reading and giving us encouragement.

Dr. Smith,
My name is Nicole and I've recently been accepted by TeachNOLA to interview at one of their events. I've never been to New Orleans, however, I am wildly excited about the opportunity to live and teach there. I ran across your blog looking for Education News in New Orleans and perused your site. I'm wondering if you have any advice or information to give me before my interview, and/or before making a commitment, if I am accepted? Thank you for your time.

I admire your courage. We need as many bright, energetic people as we can attract. Just remember, the city is still in recovery. Even at its worst, New Orleans is a great place to live, in my opinion.

I suggest that you connect with someone who can show you around the city and figure out where you will live. You need to visit some schools that are charter-operated and those that are district-operated. We hired a teacher who moved to the city from Hawaii in January. If you send me an email address (click on my email under the picture), I'll put you in touch with him. He can probably answer your questions better than I can.

I attended an RSD workshop on Phonics Blitz last summer and was quite impressed. The magic wore off quickly, however, when I remembered how many other programs in the past were supposed to help our kids. Imagine my surprise when I learned that our school was to be involved in a pilot program and I had the opportunity to teach it.

I taught phonics to seventh and eighth graders---the lessons are designed for 4th through high school---and it works.

It is not, for lack of a better word, babyfied. It is a program meant to fill in the phonics gaps that children have missed or not learned. They must have a certain amount of phonological knowledge to begin.

My heart soared when I saw the progress the children were making, and broke when I learned that we would not be adopting the program for next year. (You know how that is...) I will use what I have learned and teach it myself. I truly believe that this is one way to catch those upper grade children up before we lose them completely.

Thank you for the information. I saw that program in the ASCD exhibits last month, but I did not examine the materials closely. I will take a better look at it.

We are looking at one program, but we would have to buy the 4th grade materials for our 7th grade students to target their instructional level. The work looks too juvenile (babyfied)for them.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Roslyn: Pearl, Thank you for the information. I saw that program read more
  • Pearl: I attended an RSD workshop on Phonics Blitz last summer read more
  • Roslyn: I admire your courage. We need as many bright, energetic read more
  • Nicole: Dr. Smith, My name is Nicole and I've recently been read more
  • Roslyn: I am determined to have a viable music program next read more



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