Viewpoint: New School Board members bring promise of systemic change

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Voting machines are rolled out of the warehouse for the Dec. 5 election. (Uptown Messenger)

The four new members recently elected to the Orleans Parish School Board will shake up the system and chart a new direction for an organization that has been ruled in large part by outside influences since Hurricane Katrina. 

Representing a vast number of New Orleans families, this quartet will function as the School Board’s voting majority with the clear ability to pass or eliminate any policy they deem necessary. They will also have to find better solutions to major issues such as school financing, equity, perpetually low-performing schools and how to bring high-quality schools to every neighborhood.  

Katie Baudouin

Katie Baudouin

Incoming District 5 board member Katie Baudouin will represent Central City, the Garden District, the Irish Channel and other neighborhoods above Canal Street. She said her highest priority is helping schools students and families get through the pandemic.

“I want to work with schools to develop a plan to measure any learning loss so we can help our students continue to learn and grow,” said Baudouin.  The policy director for Councilman Joe Giarrusso’s District A office and mother of a charter school student, she would like to serve on the policy, property, budget and finance committees.

The Bureau of Governmental Research recently issued a detailed report on how to better fund NOLA Schools. “The BGR report showed that there are ways to fund our system more efficiently and effectively. I look forward to using my knowledge of the Medicaid system to maximize and increase our budget so that we can invest more in our students,” Baudouin said.

Baudouin believes that funding has a lot to do with how we get great schools in every neighborhood. “Relationship building and community investment are as important as funding. As a board member, I hope to work closely with the schools in my district and support them as they continue to improve and serve our community,” Baudouin concluded.

Baudouin won the seat in the Dec. 5 general election with 54% percent of the vote, beating fellow Democrat Antoinette Williams. She will replace Grisela Jackson, who was appointed to the District 5 seat on June 23 to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Benjamin Kleban.

Carlos Zervigon

Carlos Zervigon

Incoming District 6 board member Carlos Zervigon, who will represent Uptown neighborhoods including the University area, Hollygrove and Gert Town, is prioritizing how to close the gap between the highest and lowest performing schools. A long-time charter school leader and former teacher, Zervigon also wants to improve services for special learners in schools, including in special education, mental health and trauma-informed care. 

He said he is committed to “seeing the system through the COVID-19 crisis,” including student learning recovery, student and teacher emotional well-being and district financial stability.

“The better we can serve the whole child, the better student performance will be. While we work to promote the replication of the highest-performing schools, we must also provide significant support to the schools that are struggling,” he said.  

Zervigon intends to actively support the boards running individual charter schools and also to help the public understand the work of the OPSB through transparency and accessibility. In addition, Zervigon said, the OPSB must continue to address gaps in the areas of special education, transportation, community schooling and parent engagement.  

“One of the most important roles of a School Board member is to represent the district and its schools well, to build trust in the school system among the voters,” he said. “When the voters have a greater sense of trust in the school system, they are willing to invest more in public education.”  With an anticipated temporary drop in revenue because of the COVID-19 crisis, Zervigon thinks the board must work hard to keep the school system financially stable while also providing the highest level of education possible. 

Zervigon would like to serve on the charter accountability committee, the policy committee and the legal/legislative committee.  “The Orleans Parish School Board must support our schools and charter operators to develop a stronger sense of community, collegiality and cooperation within and among school sites,” he said.

Zervigon pointed to a recent study that found the turnover rate of school leaders over the past two school years to be over 20%, with new leadership in more than one in five schools. “These leaders don’t leave because of benefits or pay; they left because there were inadequate supports,”  he continued. “I can help change that. I understand the challenges our education leaders face.

 “While we have made tremendous improves in the school system, the biggest remaining obstacle to improving student learning outcomes is poverty. OPSB members should fight for equity in all areas that impact our families including housing, wages, health care access and the criminal justice system.  We should also assist school operations in forming cooperative endeavors for wraparound support services in such areas as health care access and social/emotional support services,” 

Zervigon defeated Erica Martinez in the runoff on Dec. 5. He will replace Woody Koppel, who chose not to run after representing District 6 for three terms.

Olin Parker

Olin Parker

Incoming District 3 member Olin Parker said his priorities are threefold. “We must provide opportunity for every child, which includes expanding access to mental health services, increasing trauma-informed discipline practices and comprehensive career and technical education and early college options,” Parker said.  

He said also believes that expanding the number of high-quality seats for families is one way to build a system that has A-rated schools in every neighborhood. “We’ve seen an increase in the number of high-quality seats but we need more,” Parker explained. One way to accomplish that goal is to hold existing schools to high standards for renewal. 

“Moreover, we need to ensure that schools are high performing, but not just in math and reading. We need to ensure that every school offers opportunities like art, music, sports, robotics, chess and all the other things that make school memorable and truly great,” he said. 

Parker supports implementing a comprehensive racial equity plan that includes equitable funding for schools, a strong Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program, and equity training for School Board members and NOLA-PS staff.  

“I would like to serve on the policy and charter accountability committees where my expensive professional experience would be valuable,” he continued. A third-generation educator and former Teacher of the Year, Parker has been executive director overseeing all charter school accountability at the Louisiana Department of Education.  

District 3 comprises Mid-City, Lakeview and part of Gentilly. Parker won the election outright on Nov. 3 with nearly 64% of the vote against Republican candidate Philip Brickman. He will replace Sarah Usdin, who did not seek re-election.

J.C. Romero

J.C. Romero

Incoming District 4 board member J.C. Romero is also prioritizing the need to support families, students and educators during COVID-19.

“It is imperative for OPSB to play an active role in ensuring that we are critical thought partners to network and school leaders as we all navigate the intricacies involved in education leadership during these times,” Romero said. “I want to ensure that students continue to receive a high quality education, all while ensuring that all involved are safe and healthy.” 

Romero got into the runoff against incumbent Leslie Ellison with only 25% of the vote to her 49.9% in the primary. He went on to beat her in the general election by 929 votes.

He said he is open to serving on any OPSB committees where his expertise as a K-12 educator and professor of education is needed.

As one of the first steps to creating high-quality schools in all New Orleans neighborhoods, Romero is committed to engaging constituents in the larger discussions being had on schools and public education. 

“Community voice is paramount to our decision-making processes, and, to me, this is the best first step.” he said.

These young leaders are poised to bring many changes to NOLA-PS schools which will improve educational outcomes and build a better-educated New Orleans workforce as we rebuild after COVID-19. 

Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Councilman Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman at-large Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. She is a member of the Democratic Parish Executive Committee. Columbus can be reached at swampednola@gmail.com.

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