N.O. schools given academic honor

Advocate staff photo by KARI HARDENLouisiana Superintendent of Education John White presented checks to New Orleans schools for earning Top Gains recognition as well as Believe and Include grants at a ceremony Tuesday at Morris Jeff Community School.
Advocate staff photo by KARI HARDENLouisiana Superintendent of Education John White presented checks to New Orleans schools for earning Top Gains recognition as well as Believe and Include grants at a ceremony Tuesday at Morris Jeff Community School.

Welcomed by a rendition of Mahalia Jackson’s “Good News, the Chariot’s Coming” played by fourth-graders on recorders, state Superintendent of Education John White visited Morris Jeff Community School on Tuesday to ceremoniously present giant checks to New Orleans schools receiving Top Gains recognition as well as recipients of the “Believe and Include” grant.

To the elementary school students seated on the floor, White said that the goal was to make sure “all of you can live your life dreams.”

Most schools in the city achieved progress, but the schools acknowledged on Tuesday achieved at an even higher level, White said.

Each school earning Tops Gains, which signifies the schools met their School Performance Score growth goal, were awarded $8,500 to be used for educational purposes. White emphasized the success attributed to “all schools and all children,” regardless of charter type or governing board in the city’s complex education landscape.

In New Orleans, 26 schools earned the Top Gains designation for the 2011-2012 school year, the second-highest number of any parish in the state next to Jefferson Parish, in which 27 schools earned the honor and monetary award.

“I want to congratulate each of these schools for the work they have done in the past year, ” Jefferson Parish Superintendent James Meza said in a news release last week. “We are proud of the progress they have made, and we are confident that these schools will work hard to maintain this momentum as we strive to provide a world-class education for all of our children,” he said.

To win a portion of the $4 million Believe and Include grant, schools were required to submit proposals that showed how the schools could make “dramatic gains using innovative means for students with disabilities,” White said.

The grant, according to the Louisiana Department of Education, “represents an effort to drive achievement by empowering our district leaders, school leaders and special education teachers to innovate special education in our state.”

The five consortiums awarded a total of $1.5 million of the overall $4 million grant included the Algiers Charter School Association, Choice Foundation, FirstLine Schools, KIPP New Orleans Schools and Morris Jeff Community Schools. The five groups represent 30 schools in the Recovery School District and the Orleans Parish School System.

White said the federal funds were intended to go directly to the school and leaders who best knew the needs, rather than being “wasted on bureaucracy.”

Morris Jeff Principal Patricia Perkins said the grant will allow the school to bring in hand-held computers and software that can help students with a wide range of disabilities learn in ways better suited to their unique needs — assets that Perkins said the school could not afford otherwise. The money also will be used for teacher training.

Perkins said that Morris Jeff believes in a “full inclusion model,” thus including students with disabilities into regular classrooms. The students will not be isolated in the real world, Perkins said. While challenging, the school seeks to give every child the same opportunities, Perkins said.

Perkins also noted that fundraising and pursuing additional grants is an essential and ongoing effort in the current public education landscape, where “there is never enough money.”

White said that the achievements in New Orleans are not only the pride of the state but also the pride of the nation.

Aesha Rasheed, board president for Morris Jeff, said that one of the greatest values of the Mid-City school was in its diversity, and knowing how important that diversity is in order to learn together and grow together as a community.

The grant will “help us live that value,” Rasheed said.

The Morris Jeff school is part of the CAMS Consortium, which consists of four partner schools and will receive about $200,000.

The Algiers Charter School Association will receive $400,000 for its eight partner schools

The Choice Foundation will receive $150,000 for its three partner schools

FirstLine Schools will receive $300,000 at its six partner schools

KIPP New Orleans Schools will receive $450,000 for its nine partner schools.