Education landscape significantly changed post Katrina - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports, Social

Education landscape significantly changed post Katrina

"We've made some tangible, significant progress but we still have a long way to go. (FOX 8 File) "We've made some tangible, significant progress but we still have a long way to go. (FOX 8 File)
NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

New and renovated public school buildings are just part of the city’s new education landscape as the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina nears.

At McDonogh 42 Elementary School dozens gathered for a huge ribbon cutting celebration Wednesday morning.

The school underwent millions in post-Katrina renovations and from the principal to students and community leaders excitement was palpable.

"As we come up on this 10 year remembrance, you know, we never want to forget where we came from, but it's also just like another testament to the resiliency of our city,” said Patrick Dobard, Superintendent of the state run Recovery School District which took oversight of most New Orleans Public Schools in the wake of Katrina.

McDonogh 42 is but one of many campuses overhauled after the storm.  School officials said 31 schools have either been rebuilt or renovated.

At the McDonogh 42 ceremony, representatives of FEMA were present.  The federal agency eventually allocated $1.8 billion for schools run by the RSD and the local Orleans Parish School District.

"But that's just for the construction, the recovery of the buildings, we've provided in excess of $2 Billion dollars in total that includes the emergency work that was performed early on as well,” said Eddie Williams, FEMA’s Public Assistance and Infrastructure Branch Director.

On Senate Street, a brand new sprawling McDonogh 35 High School campus gets attention.

“The facilities before Katrina were in many ways criminal, you had schools that didn't have working water fountains, you had teachers having to buy toilet paper and bring it in, you had bathrooms without stalls,” said Leslie Jacobs, Founder of Educate Now, a non-proft  that advocates for quality education.

Jacobs, a former Orleans Parish School Board member, who also served on the statewide school board, which is officially the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education said out of the storm grew a public education do over.

"Over the space of the last 10 years, we've converted gradually so that today 95 percent of students are in a charter school…Fundamentally where decisions are made has changed, so a school now has the decision making authority over who to hire and fire, their curriculum, their budgets, their use of time, that's a world of a change,” Jacobs stated.

She said academic improvements are undeniable.

"Our graduation rate is up by about 50 percent, our drop-out rate is cut in half, our ACT scores are higher, we are the number one improved district in the state of Louisiana,” said Jacobs.

Yet challenges have not disappeared.

"We've made some tangible, significant progress but we still have a long way to go,” said Dobard.

Vera Warren Williams, owns a bookstore near McDonogh 42 and she is a community partner with the school.

She said students still need more access to schools in their neighborhoods.

“There are many students, or children and they're bussed all over and they're from one family, so you may have three different schools in one family and it's very hard for parents and the community to be involved in the overall educational landscape when you have situations like that so we really hope that more community schools come back and that children in the communities have first rights to attend those schools,” she said.

President Obama travels to the city on August 27th to commemorate Katrina’s anniversary and man hope he takes notice of the changes that have happened in terms of school rebuilding.

"The efforts that we've done over the years has just been extraordinary given the impact of Katrina on this community,” said Williams.

Copyright 2015 WVUE. All rights reserved

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