by Elizabeth K. Jeffers
Prior to her position on the local school board, Usdin founded New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO) the “ambassador of education reform.” According to 990 tax returns, the purpose of the non-profit is “to achieve high-quality, accountable schools through teacher and principal recruitment, opening and supporting open-enrollment charter schools, and informing and collaborating with the community.”
NSNO was a post Hurricane Katrina invention founded with grant money from the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund. Usdin’s charter school investment strategy has supported the “launch or expansion” of 28 schools, including Bricolage Academy, FirstLine Schools, KIPP New Orleans Schools, Collegiate Academies and FINS.
NSNO has been directly involved in school closures, or at least they have received funding to do so. In 2011, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated $301,451 to NSNO “to fund a road map for community engagement around school closure to build the infrastructure for improving failing schools in the Recovery School District.”
NSNO board includes Stephen Rosenthal (brother of Leslie Jacobs), Stephen W. Hales (a Rex Organization official and a member of Pro Bono Publico Foundation’s board), Hunter Pierson III (2010 Rex king who is also on the TFA GNO board and New Orleans Start Up Fund board), Mary Kay Parker (also on the TFA GNO board), Sarah N. Usdin (also on the TFA GNO board) and board members emeritus: Anthony Recasner (founder of Samuel J. Green Charter School, former board member of FirstLine Schools and the Greater New Orleans Foundation) and Ian Arnoff, (also on the TFA GNO board).
NSNO is a major funder of Joshua Densen’s Bricolage Academy, the K-8 charter that the RSD has announced will be moving into John McDonogh’s building. In just 2012 alone, NSNO donated $1 million to Bricolage Academy. In 2010, NSNO donated $478,000 to Achievement Network, an organization where Densen served as a managing director.
In its charter application, Bricolage Academy wrote that “it has an ongoing relationship with 4.0 Schools and New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO).” A former leader of NSNO, Matt Candler created 4.0 Schools, which is “a design lab where curious educators are supported.” Both entities have supported “the planning, development and establishment of Bricolage by way of supporting its founding school leader, Josh Densen.”
There are copious conflicts of interests regarding Sarah Usdin’s position as an OPSB elected representative.