Public School Politics

There seems to be a glimmer of hope for children who attend public schools in Orleans Parish. Though one of my children attends an excellent school, we’ve removed the others from the school system in favor of educating them at home. The reasons we felt obligated to do so are different for each child but essentially, it’s a result of the convoluted charter school system that has replaced the public school system. Read I’m About to Homeschool a Sixth Grader: Pray for Me and Am I About to Homeschool a Senior? for more information about what lead us to homeschool two of our three children.

Last week while listening to The Good Morning Show with Oliver Thomas on WBOK, I learned a few things about our district’s representative with the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). When she was elected years ago, I knew she wasn’t from here, which didn’t bother me. Our current mayor isn’t from New Orleans or the surrounding parishes and I’m content with her performance so far. I’m not from New Orleans either, but I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else and I love this city. 

Plenty of people come from other places, adapt to the culture and thrive here. The recently deceased and beloved news anchor, Nancy Parker, comes to mind. The people of the city adored her because she loved the city. A Nola.com article suggests that reelecting the current District 2 representative might be the best way to get her to pay past due taxes and fines. That may be true, but my main problem with her is not overdue bills and where she used to live, but where she currently lives, which is apparently very far from the district she claims to represent.

District 2 includes several parishes (counties, for the folks who aren’t familiar with Louisiana). She could live in any of them but allegedly, she does not. In fact, it seems that she lives in another state with her husband! That would explain why she misses so many BESE meetings and neglects to vote on things that matter to us.

I’m not interested in political maneuvering. I don’t have any interest in keeping up with soap operas. I believe many politicians and the people who financially support them are often just as unnecessarily dramatic and conniving as any character from Dynasty or The Young and the Restless. They’re making deals, laying out plans and forming alliances to plot one someone’s downfall, all while smiling for the public and making promises. A recent publication of the New Orleans Tribune shares just how bound to their benefactors some of these so-called representatives are. They’re supposed to work for the people who voted for them but it appears that the people who fund their campaigns are more important. In fact, much like the writer of the Tribune article, I was highly disappointed to learn that two representatives that I normally support are encouraging citizens to re-elect someone who doesn’t even live in our community.

While listening to The Good Morning Show and reading the article in The Tribune, I don’t recall anyone mentioning an alternative candidate to represent District 2 for BESE. I simply got the impression that there were huge questions about the legitimacy of the current representative. I wondered who, if anyone, was running against her. I wondered if her challenger(s) would serve our community any better than she has. Do they really live in District 2 or do they, like so many others, just own rental or vacation property here. If she has any challengers, do they have any children? Do their children attend public schools? Do they have any experience with this public school system, be it as a teacher, administrator, or parent? Do they care about our children at all? Sometimes I got the fleeting idea that I should run, which was always immediately rejected by the fact that I’m not interested in political maneuvering.

I wondered about these things but never gave it more than a few moments of my time. Every day I drive one of my children to school before going to work, usually for a three or four hours. Then I return home and begin reviewing the assignments that my two home schooled children have completed. We have discussions, make corrections, do experiments, and delve deeper into their classwork, usually while eating lunch together. Sometimes, in the midst of this, I’ve got a few loads laundry going, I’m preparing dinner or occasionally working on a blog post. Eventually I have to go pick-up my child who attends public school. Sometimes the children make dinner but usually I do. My husband leaves early for work and often tends to his garden or cuts the grass before joining us for the evening, so he’s pretty busy during the week.

We always eat dinner together and at some point during the evening I prepare the next days lessons and write the assignments on our white board. My husband and I do our housework and supervise the children as they do theirs. Sometimes at the end of the evening, if I can grab a few moments to myself and I’m willing to fight the mosquitoes, I sit on our back patio and drink a cup of tea or a glass of wine. Since taking on the work of formally educating two of our children while reentering the workforce, I really haven’t had the time to think much about what’s going on in our public schools.

I need to rephrase that if I’m going to really be honest. Since one child attends a public school that is ranked among the top 100 in the nation and the others have been set free from the mediocrity (that’s putting it nicely) that awaited them in most other public schools, I stopped thinking about New Orleans’ public schools until something in the media reminded me of what’s going on. Our household is no longer burdened with anxiety and frustration about our children’s education, but we’re far from the norm.

A few days ago, a shared social media post caught my attention.

“I don’t know Dr. Ashanta Wyatt. Hell, I probably spelled her name wrong. But what I do know is we need to protect her. She is about to shake up the NOLA public school system – win, lose, or draw.”

Wanting to know more, I skipped down the rabbit trail of social media, first looking Dr. Wyatt’s page, then visiting her website, www.electdrwyatt.com. Later I sought information about her elsewhere on the internet, where I learned that I’ve heard of her before. Her website and social media informed me that Dr. Wyatt is from New Orleans, she attended local public schools, and she has worked as a teacher, principal and coach in public schools. She’s also an adjunct professor at a local university. My internet search showed that she is the principal who made headlines last fall for being suspended shortly after questioning the school’s charter board (her employer) about their use (or alleged misuse) of funds.

I continued digging. As it turns out, Dr. Wyatt was the school’s fifth principal in two years and she was working toward turning the failing school around. She had the support of parents and the community but ultimately, she lost her job. Due to non-compliance issues, ongoing questions about the use of resources, and an F rating, the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) decided to close the school at the end of the school year. Parents in that neighborhood had to find schools outside of the community for their elementary-aged children to attend. I remember friends telling me what a great educator she was. I recall community meetings with parents who wanted to keep their school open and keep the good principal instead if closing the school and scattering neighborhood children throughout the city. I had a good feeling about that principal.

One of our daughters is going to college next year and the other will continue at her current school. We may try to enroll our son in school next year but in all likelihood, he will be homeschooled until it’s time for high school. The OneApp process is stressful and frustrating so I’d rather not participate in it. The Orleans Parish School System has grown stressful and frustrating, so… you know. We’ll continue taking our homeschooling adventure one day at a time. Meanwhile, I’m thankful for Dr. Wyatt’s presence as a legitimate choice. She seems to stand in opposition to the sale of public education to the highest bidders. I actually think she cares about the education of our ALL of our children. At least I hope so.

3 thoughts on “Public School Politics

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