ORLEANS PARISH SCHOOL BOARD DISTRICT 1
Three candidates are vying for the District 1 seat on the Orleans Parish School Board. The incumbent is retired educator John Brown, who was appointed to fill the unexpired term of former board member Ira Thomas. Keith Barney, also a career educator, and Shawon Bernard, an attorney, veteran educator and administrator, are also in the race.
The Orleans Parish School Board has six traditional public schools and 18 charter schools under its operation.
“I want (my six-year-old granddaughter) to choose whatever school she wants to, and it doesn’t matter because all schools are great,” he says.
While Barney says that all public schools in Orleans Parish should return to the OPSB, he believes that charter schools and the board must come to an “equitable agreement” and that the Orleans Parish School System must “prove that it is prepared to take on the oversight” of these schools, while also allowing them to keep their autonomy.
Barney, who is also president of the Coghill Charter School Board, says he wants to see OPSB increase its teacher recruitment efforts at local and regional schools, with an emphasis on historically Black colleges and universities.
He also says he wants to see increased focus on career and vocational training for students even as they pursue academic tracks that also prepare them for college.
Barney says he is an independent voice that will be transparent in the way he governs if elected.
“I am a New Orleans boy,” he says. “I grew up watching my parents help people; and that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life. I just want to serve.”
Bernard’s foray into the law was direct result of her concern over the direction of public education in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the policy that guided it, she says.
“While working in schools after the hurricane, I became concerned with the policies that were being implemented,” she says. “I wanted to have a better understanding of what was being put in place.”
If she is elected, Bernard says accountability, school governance and a return to neighborhood schools will be at the forefront of her agenda.
“Regardless of what board a school exists under, I believe that the education of all students in this city is the responsibility of the elected school board.”
More than that, Bernard says she wants to work with the board to have all schools return to and operated under OPSB.
And she also has a plan to redistrict neighborhoods so that children are given first rights to attend the school closest to them instead of being bussed across town.
“True choice will exist when parents can opt to send their child to the neighborhood school or apply for a school outside of their neighborhood,” she says.
She calls the One App process a “mathematical algorithm that places students in seats” with only a one in eight chance of getting they placement they and their parents desire.
JOHN A. BROWN
“I made a decision to this,” Brown says. “I’m not looking for any other political position. I will be a voice for children and the community.”
Brown is especially proud of his role in ensuring that charter schools operating under the control of the OPSB have at least one parent on their governing boards. As the district’s policy regarding charter schools under its oversight was being revised in recent months, Brown says he noticed that element was left out.
The candidate believes more focus must be placed on boosting student performance in schools throughout the city.
“Although we have announced dramatic gains, our state still ranks 48th or 49th in the U.S.”
Brown says he anticipates the return of schools to OPSB.
“For the last six months, I have been on the board; and we have been working hard, preparing ourselves to receive those schools that are no longer under the control of the RSD,” he says.
Other specific areas he would like to focus on if elected to a term on the board is examining school costs so that better funding decisions can be made. Brown cited the high transportation costs incurred by schools in Orleans Parish as a result of students being bussed all over their city to attend school. And although he is in favor of a common enrollment system, he believes the One-App process needs to be revised, suggesting that it might be more feasible for all schools operating under OPSB to have a centralized application process of their own, apart from the RSD.