NOLA-PS strategic planning process will include community input for the first time in recent history

In the past, strategic planning for New Orleans public schools was considered an internal process. Now the district is looking to change that.

NOLA-PS has undergone major changes in recent years – the most significant being the reunification of the city charter system under the Orleans Parish School Board in 2018. Since then, the district has centralized some aspects of the system, such as registration, while leaving a certain autonomy to the organizations managing the charter.

Whether to give charter school officials more or less control is just one of many issues the district is considering as part of its current strategic planning process, and they are hungry for input. from the community.

“Now is the time to harness this knowledge gained by our unique community of schools, as we came together last year to keep our staff, teachers and students safe,” said Superintendent Dr. Henderson Lewis Jr. in a press release. “And now it’s time to plan for the future, to develop a district that continues to care for all of its students, no matter who they are or where they come from.”

The process started about a month ago. Since then, the district has developed focus groups and outfit online forums. There is one online bank of ideas, as well as a survey available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

Officials will share comments so far at a public comment meeting later this month. The meeting will be webcast and participants are required to register in advance.

The current district strategic plan, which was adopted in 2018, expires at the end of this year. Lewis is expected to present the district’s new strategic plan for school board approval later this summer.

Education journalist Aubri Juhasz spoke with school board chair Ethan Ashley about his expectations for the strategic planning process. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Aubri Juhasz: You served on the school board three years ago when the district developed its current strategic plan. How was the planning process different this time around?

Ethan Ashley: I would say the process is different in many ways. I think the circumstances in which our district currently finds itself are different. If you recall, July 1, 2018 was the first time our school district was in any form. The creation of this strategic plan in 2018 as a half-system made it much more difficult to figure out how to take care of all the students in the system, knowing that we did not have control of the whole system at this point. that time.

Now that we control the system, we try to make the voice of those who really benefit from our system heard, that is, our public and our community.

What do you think of the decision to center this process on the voices of the community? I think there is often this tension between balancing the perspectives and priorities of education leaders and individual stakeholders. Sometimes they can have very different points of view which can be difficult to reconcile.

I think most people would agree that the most important voice in this regard is certainly that of our families and our young people. If every young person walked out of the system now because they don’t feel like they’re being heard, we wouldn’t have a system.

I also recognize that our system cannot function without very good educators who are dedicated to rendering the educational services of our young people. I think our district tries to do everything in its power to get our schools and principals to hear them.

Our system is certainly unique and there is a balancing act that we do. I think the most important thing is to recognize that our system operates from a central location, which is our district. For this reason, our schools look to the district to ensure that the vision we create is comprehensive, including what we expect of them contractually and otherwise.

I think our board leaders are looking to us right now to say, “What’s the vision? But we also ask them to illuminate that vision because they play a very important role in making sure that that vision can be actualized.

Many people – parents, teachers, students – are exhausted from this past school year. Zoom fatigue is real. Is there a concern that the community cannot fully engage in this process at this time?

As a parent of a young person in our public school system, I would argue that there has probably not been a greater time in the history of our system where parents are connected due to the pandemic. I think we’re seeing parents and students really taking ownership of the education process and I’m thrilled about that.

I think we need to publicize the process, but once people hear about the process, I’m telling you, they’re not afraid of opinions.

What are the main ways the new strategic plan could potentially differ from the current plan?

Our current vision is that every student receives a high-quality education that fosters their individual abilities while ensuring they thrive and are prepared for civic, social, and economic success.

While I think this vision is a big part of where we want our youth to go, our district over the past two years has focused on equity. We need to have very clear positions on what it means to be an anti-racist and racially equitable school system and be very clear about it.

Last year our board had the opportunity to pass a racial equity audit and that audit in many ways has started to trigger other aspects of our system becoming more anti-racist and racially equitable. racial. the installation renaming process is just part of the larger work we need to do to really move our system in the right direction.

I look forward to the results of the rounding racial equity audit. I want to make sure that we follow the advice of the experts and also use it to inform our strategic planning process.

NOLA-PS hired beloved community, a local nonprofit consulting firm to conduct a district-wide racial equity audit. Verification is program to be completed in July 2021.

I’ve taken a look at some of the questions that have come up in focus groups so far. Two of the questions examine the balance of power between the district and charter management organizations and ask whether certain responsibilities should be transferred from one entity to the other. How important is this question?

The district is really trying to provide these answers to understand what makes sense and what doesn’t. From there, we will have the opportunity to start a conversation with our partners to say: “Does this make sense to you? »

I recognize that three years ago some things were not centralized. For the first time this year, we had a centralized calendar that all of our schools adhered to. It kind of got swept under the rug because of the pandemic.

Louisa R. Loomis