Feb 18, 2013 20:01 Schools Expo to help families navigate N.O. education options Schools Expo to help families navigate N.O. education options by kari dequine harden| New Orleans bureau Feb. 18, 2013 Comments NEW ORLEANS — Close to 100 schools, 35 early childhood learning centers and 100 community organizations will gather Saturday to provide families with resources to make decisions about where to enroll their children in school. The 7th annual Schools Expo, hosted by the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Mercedes Benz Superdome. In an educational landscape that is constantly changing, Erika McConduit-Diggs, interim president and CEO of the Urban League, said that events like the expo are critical to provide parents with the best available information about local schools in a centralized, neutral environment. Public, private and parochial schools from across New Orleans will be represented. Particularly with a number of schools closing and others changing operators, McConduit-Diggs said, parents need an in-depth guide to the options available. She said that school leaders are encouraged to attend so that they can interact directly with parents to help navigate an environment in which the available choices of high quality can feel limited and confusing. With 41 percent of the public schools deemed failing by the state’s own standards, McConduit-Diggs said parents are challenged with questions such as “What do my children need to do to catch up?” and “How do I know that their new school won’t close or fail?” Often all parents hear is that their child’s school failed, McConduit-Diggs said. “The message that sends without other context is extremely troubling.” In an ideal world, McConduit-Diggs said all schools would be quality schools, but “sadly we are not there yet.” The key question McConduit-Diggs said she wants to help answer for families at the expo is, “What do I need to do to position my child for success?” For the first time this year, the Urban League is partnering with Agenda for Children to bring early childhood care into the mix. Catherine Robin, director of kindergarten readiness and K-12 programs for the 28-year-old nonprofit, said that the expo will allow small-business owners to highlight their programs and educate parents on what quality early childhood education looks like. Robin said the expo will help families understand the right questions to ask when looking at child care providers, as well as navigate cost. With only about half of Louisiana’s children entering kindergarten ready for school, Robin said that the early years are crucial for social and emotional development. Centers must provide an environment that stimulates the learning process, she said. Robin said the 35 centers that will be represented Saturday have all been rated as high-quality by the state. In addition to the schools, the expo will also offer general health screenings, dental screenings and performances by bands and dancing groups as other extra-curricular groups including karate and cheerleading. The goal is to inform choice, McConduit-Diggs said, and support all the factors that go into choice — including aspects like culture, tradition and policies — incorporating but not solely relying on test scores. Based on feedback from previous years, McConduit-Diggs said the expo will begin with a short video presentation that will give an overview and help families get the most out of their time, as well as provide multi-media information for all literacy levels. There also will be a new room where parents can get online and either submit applications on-site or start the process with guidance on how to set up their registration. “We want to make sure there are no barriers,” McConduit-Diggs said. The event is free and open to the public and will include food and school supply giveaways. Free parking can be accessed at Garage 1A and 2A, on Sugar Bowl Drive. For more information on the Schools Expo, contact Keisha Dubuclet 504.620.2332.