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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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Turning Point

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The expression “calm before the storm” can be used in a literal sense to describe a tranquil period preceding an actual storm. Dark clouds appear in the sky, but a sense of peacefulness remains as threatening weather approaches. At other times, the expression figuratively describes a respite or lull before a troubling or intense activity. For William Frantz Public School, both uses of the phrase are fitting. In the first several decades after it opened in 1938, William Frantz Public School had a quiet and relatively uneventful existence in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans. However, school desegregation and the vehemence of those who opposed it loomed on the horizon and finally clashed in full force in November 1960. At the time, the people around the globe expressed shock and outrage about what they saw on television. Over the next 40 years, the school experienced more turbulent times. What happened to William Frantz Public School in those years—the re-segregation of public schools brought about by White flight, the deterioration of a neglected community and school building, growing attention to test scores, the shadow of corruption and volatile leadership within the Orleans Parish school district—represent tumultuous chapters in the story of William Frantz Public School. Yet, few people noticed. In retrospect, these chapters seem to be only quiet rumblings that paled in comparison to what lay ahead.

The literal storm, Hurricane Katrina, pummeled New Orleans in August 2005. When Hurricane Katrina hit, the building...

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