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William Frantz Public School

A Story of Race, Resistance, Resiliency, and Recovery in New Orleans

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Connie L. Schaffer, Meg White and Martha Graham Viator

Why should you care about what happened to William Frantz Public School? Yes, Ruby Bridges entered the iconic doors of William Frantz in 1960, but the building’s unique role in New Orleans school desegregation is only one part of the important history of this school. Many additional and equally important stories have unfolded within its walls and the neighborhoods surrounding it. These stories matter.

It matters that society has historically marginalized Black students and continues to do so. It matters that attempts to dismantle systemic racism in schools and other institutions still face strong resistance, and these issues continue to deeply divide the United States. It matters that the building remains standing as an indomitable symbol of the resiliency of public education despite decades of waning support, misguided accountability, and a city devasted by Hurricane Katrina. It matters that opportunism, under the guise of recovery, reshaped public education in New Orleans.

William Frantz Public School: A Story of Race, Resistance, Resiliency, and Recovery in New Orleans provides more than an examination of education in one school and one city. It recounts a story that matters to anyone who cares about public education.

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4. A Building in Crisis

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CHAPTER FOUR

A Building in Crisis

During the 60 years since William Frantz Public School opened, it experienced the common strains of aging. The stoic structure that stood with steady resolve during the school desegregation crisis of 1960 and through the subsequent struggles of the Upper Ninth Ward had been neglected. Decades of deferred maintenance and postponed building upgrades accumulated and left the building in need of substantial and costly renovations. Unfortunately, William Frantz Public School needed more than structural repairs. At the beginning of the 21st century, the school was considered Academically Unacceptable by the Louisiana Department of Education and under great pressure to improve its test scores. The new century also coincided with an unsettling era for the Orleans Parish school district. The district faced financial chaos, the mistrust of authorities and the public, and leadership instability while at the same time it tried to respond to shrinking enrollments, increased accountability, and the uncompromising poverty and violence that impacted so many of its students. Within this context, William Frantz Public School and Orleans Parish school district fought for their survival.

The story of William Frantz Public School (WFPS) mirrored the experiences of many schools across the city and reflected many issues facing residents of the Ninth Ward. Poverty, crime, and neglect outside the building encroached upon and leached into the schools. The revitalization of public housing proceeded slowly and controversially within the neighborhoods. The number of affordable public ←149 | 150→housing units...

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