A new agreement to fund programs that keep high-needs students on track from preschool through graduation marks the first formal partnership between two New Orleans’ school systems that work side by side.
The Orleans Parish School Board and the Recovery School District will share facilities and citywide educational services including a therapeutic center for students with severe mental health issues and a system to evaluate preschoolers with disabilities. The state of Louisiana took over and chartered most New Orleans schools—many of which were failing—after the 2005 hurricane destroyed 80 percent of public school buildings.
The 90 schools within the district are now governed by one of three entities: the state-run Recovery School District, the Orleans Parish School Board or nonprofit charter operators. “This is a great opportunity for the two governing bodies to show that we can work together and do what’s best for providing services to children,” says Stan Smith, interim superintendent of the Orleans Parish district.
Some 90 percent of students in the district are African-American, and 82 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. In 2012, the graduation rate for all New Orleans’ schools was 78 percent, up from 54 percent in 2004. The agreement will create a citywide “exceptional needs fund” to help schools provide programs for students at increased risk of dropping out due to disabilities, chronic absences or criminal histories.
To start the fund, the OPSB will contribute $6.3 million, with $5 million coming from a general fund surplus and $1.3 million from state revenue. Each district will contribute an additional $1 million per year from annual school donations by a local casino.
The new initiatives will start in early childhood. Next school year OPSB will be responsible for identifying and evaluating all preschool aged children with disabilities, and the two districts will coordinate which schools each student will attend.
“The intent is to eliminate some duplication of services and have a clearer understanding for parents and students of how to access services,” says Patrick Dobard, superintendent of the Recovery District.
This fall, the Recovery District will add preventative programs to its truancy center to help students in the judicial system stay in school. These services include mental health and family counseling, school enrollment support, and an improved processing and intake center to address truancy problems that might lead to increased criminal activity.
The agreement will also fund a new therapeutic center in the city for students whose IEP indicates the need for intensive behavior intervention. The program will likely include more frequent counseling and medical monitoring than what can be provided in a traditional school, says Recovery District spokesperson Cay Kimbrell.
The agreement comes after the districts worked together to renovate schools and coordinate on student discipline policies.