At Sci Academy, located in New Orleans East at the former site of Marion Abramson High School, the Collegiate Academies leadership team has been on a relentless mission to reshape how community members view the charter school system.
Despite common beliefs, plans to implement an improved school management system were already underway before Hurricane Katrina because of poor school performance. However, following the devastation of the storm, there was the need for an immediate return to a local school system. This is what made the emergence of the charter school system so swift, and community members so oppositional.
As an op-ed in The Guardian notes, many parents and advocates who were just beginning the long process of putting their lives back together after catastrophic flooding were caught off guard by the quick transition.
According to The Cowen Institute, 91 percent of public school students in New Orleans attended public charter schools in the 2013-14 school year. Not only are charters in New Orleans serving a higher percentage of public school students than anywhere else in the nation, but they are also approaching the Louisiana state average in reading and mathematics proficiency scores—a rare accomplishment for an urban public school system.
There has been a dramatic shift in the state of education in New Orleans post-hurricane Katrina. Although data shows that reading and mathematics test scores have improved, students, parents and community members alike continue to desire more.
According to a study conducted by the Education Research Alliance what parents want most from schools is the following:
- Closest distance from home.
- “C” or better academic performance on state report cards.
- Valued extracurricular activities, such as football and band.
- Legacy status (high school names that recognized the history of the building and carried over post-Katrina).
The Alliance also says:
For families with children going to high schools, extracurriculars activities such as band and football seem especially important. For example, a high school with a legacy status, football and band, and a C grade would typically be preferred to one without legacy status, no football or band, and a B letter grade.
In addition to developing a specific role that focuses on community outreach, staff is working to improve student, parent and community satisfaction by forming relationships with Marion Abramson alumni. The aim of this is to strengthen legacy status and help identify what alumni and community members need in order to feel more connected to the charter school that now lies on the soil where they once learned, cheered on their athletic and spirit teams, and made plans that would shape the rest of their lives.
After several months of talks and planning, Dale changed the name of Sci Academy to Abramson Sci Academy, integrating a piece of New Orleans school history into current school culture.
Now while this may not seem like much to some, as a graduate of a New Orleans high school that still remains, I can only imagine the void I would feel if they changed its name. I believe this is a major step to connecting members of the community to the school.
An article on charter schools in New Orleans in The New York Times says:
This is a place where ‘Where did you go to school?’ refers to high school, so the move to erase neighborhood schools and replace them with charters after Katrina angered powerful alumni groups. About 7,500 teachers were fired—most of them black—damaging the city’s black middle class, economically and politically.
Abramson Sci Academy is just one example of this.
However, according to The Times Picayune, Marion Abramson High School was far from perfect.
Like many high schools before Hurricane Katrina, the old Abramson had struggled academically, finishing its last year in 2005 with a school performance score from the state of 31.2—far below what Louisiana considers ‘academically unacceptable.’
With Abramson Sci Academy strengthening its academic performance, cultural ties, and extracurricular activities, Marion Abramson alumni now have the opportunity to be involved in both changing the narrative of their former school and enhancing the experiences of its current students by sharing the joys of the high school experience.
Leaders, staff and alumni of Abramson Sci Academy all believe that when students are happy and genuinely feel that school is their home and teachers are their family, they are more likely to be deeply engaged in the classroom and during co-curricular activities.
This is the type of engagement that is key to keeping students on a path that leads to success beyond high school.