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William Frantz Public School

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

Series:

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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6. Fading from the Public

Extract

CHAPTER SIX

Fading from the Public

After the first year following Hurricane Katrina, inescapable visual evidence of loss and devastation surrounding William Frantz Public School persisted, but chaos and uncertainty soon augmented the troubled backdrop. Like the destructive flood waters of Katrina, public education reform coursed through the streets. Little could be done to stop it. In fact, many did not want to stop it and saw the opportunity to restructure a failing school system. Much of the opportunity went unchecked and seemed to be woven into the uncertainties facing New Orleans. In the decade following Hurricane Katrina, a new model of public education emerged. This new model began as a wildly tentacled creature the people of New Orleans were left to tame. No model or guidance came with the billions of dollars or the passionate, and at times, misguided desire to improve education in New Orleans. Officials made many mistakes as they navigated the opportunities and challenges of creating a new system of education, but structure and stability slowly increased within the system. The resulting model, heavily based on charter schools run by private boards of directors, evolved over the following years and moved public education into a new arena.

In the fall of 2006, some 20,000 students returned to school in over fifty buildings throughout New Orleans operated within a maze of governing structures. The number of students far exceeded officials’ projections, and the students attended varying types of schools within...

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