The Curious Case of John McDonogh (part 1)

The Curious Case of John McDonogh (part 1)

There is a very complex case of craziness surrounding John McDonogh High School. The more I look into this school, the more examples of financial mismanagement, exploitation, theft and cheating I manage to run into. This school has been exploited for publicity by a bizarre but extensive cast of characters; everyone from Oprah Winfrey, Arne Duncan, Morning Joe, RSD, John White, Mitch Landrieu, Steve Barr, Green Dot Charter Schools, Future is Now Schools: New Orleans, and Digger Phelps. Despite reports of many millions of dollars being raised to support and rebuild John McDonogh, I’m told the building still reeks of mold and urine, and is covered with asbestos, mold damage, termite damage, boarded up windows that leak when it rains. It is rat infested and littered with droppings, and this was a school being touted as the home of a future culinary institute.

Almost 2 years ago John White, Digger Phelps and Arne Duncan revealed their vision of what the future would hold for John McDonogh, 2 years thence on the Morning Joe morning show. In their vision, 35 million dollars that had been allocated for repairs would transform the school into a culinary nirvana, and a sparkling gem of learning and pride for the community surrounding it.

Digger touted the new gymnasium he had built for the school and Morning Joe flashed pictures of what were led to believe were remodeled sections of the school. He and John White did some mutual backslapping and congratulating each other on all the commitments they were making, including bring a top notch culinary institute to John McDonogh. That sounded impressive, and I’m sure all these folks got a lot of kudos for talking a good game. Digger was a former nationally renowned basketball couch, so I’m sure talking a good game is ingrained his is psyche. But when you talk a good game, collect the kudos, and then the children you say you are helping still live surrounded by broken and leaky windows, walking through rat dropping covered floors, and breathing in asbestos and toxic mold, 2 years after you highlight a problem, 8 years after Katrina when funds were allocated to rebuild the school, that’s where your help turns to exploitation.

Since we’re on the topic of exploitation, I believe exploitation is when a Billionare produces a show touting a high school as the most dangerous in the United States.


Take a look at this excerpt from an article produced by education reporter Kari Dequine Harden for the New Orleans bureau of the Advocate.

New Orleans — The John McDonogh Advisory Committee, a panel of community members that advises the charter operator for the high school, made its feelings about the reality show “Blackboard Wars” clear at Tuesday’s monthly meeting.

The committee passed around an open letter calling the show, produced [by] the Oprah Winfrey Network, “a source of negative, exploitative depictions of the students and the school.”

The advisory board’s letter was addressed to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Winfrey, the show’s producers and charter operator Steve Barr.

Three out of six episodes of the hourlong show have aired to date. The first begins with images from a 2003 shooting in the school’s gymnasium but never mentions that the incident, which left one student dead, occurred a decade ago.

Nearly every student featured in the first three episodes faces some sort of challenge—from teen pregnancy and homelessness to bipolar disorder and lack of parental acceptance because of homosexuality. Every episode aired thus far has shown scenes of out-of-control classrooms and students fighting inside the school.

The letter points to words like “most dangerous,” “most under-performing,” and “worst,” saying that such “blanket statements stereotype our school and our students,” and “reinforce low expectations.”

“Students who are repeatedly told that they are violent, troubled and beyond redemption will soon come to believe it . . . this rhetoric drives away families and students who believe the exaggerations and lies about John McDonogh,” the letter said.

For course even the Mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu got in on the bashing of John McDonogh with this statement:

In an interview last month, Thompson blamed the contentious “most dangerous” label on Landrieu, who said in his 2012 State of the City Address that in 2011, a McDonogh student was more likely to killed than a soldier in Afghanistan.

Wow, that’s quite a statement. I’m sure that wasn’t an exaggeration? I’m not sure where he got his stats but according to what was sent to the Louisiana Department of Education in 2011, (when I worked there) that school was not labeled as dangerous or persistently dangerous.  (I prepared that data through 2011-2012 before I left) I’m pretty sure even by Louisiana’s absurd definition, a dozen or so students dying would have shown up the report, not to mention making national and international news. Speaking of reports and exploitation again, I found this statement by Principal Barr particularly disturbing, though not surprising.

In a January interview about the show in California, Barr stated that out of 261 students enrolled during the 2011-2012 school year, “Any given day you never saw more than 60 kids at the school.” According to the New Orleans Parents’ Guide to Public Schools, McDonogh’s attendance rate that year was 89 percent.

This is the former principal, a leading charter school advocate, telling on himself. If what he is saying is true, the attendance rate should have been closer to 22%, not the 89 % this school reported to the state. That’s really quite an admission, but I actually believe him. . . the second time. Charters and RSD schools, especially in New Orleans, are free to report whatever data they want to report. No one verifies their reporting, and in fact, the Louisiana Department of Education would rather charter operators like Barr report completely fabricated attendance rates like 89% rather than the 22% Barr publicly asserted he witnessed. It also allows charter operators to get more money for students that stopped attending. These are state and federal dollars being spent.

We should have audits of these schools and their data quality as it directly translates to funding at a time when our state is cutting back on services to the poor, universities, and healthcare, we are letting private charter operators openly admit to sending in fabricated data which is almost certain to have resulted in overpayments from our coffers. If this were all the problems, this would be a headache, but this is only the beginning of the indictments of I can make about how this school, and how the entire RSD circus is being run.

I have at least two more pieces to go into. There is really too much going on to be covered in single post. In my next installments I will show you current photos of John McDonogh today to show you where the money isn’t going, and the nonsensical reasons being offered. I will also reveal what may very well be a RSD and charter wide scandal. Each of these topics deserves own attention and post, but consider my intro a teaser for what’s to come. . .

Preserving Public Education

Preserving Public Education
Next stop, Atlanta!

Looks like I’ve hit the big time (or at least the southern regional time) guys! I was invited to speak on a plenary panel, along with some pretty heavy hitters, at a Southern Regional Conference in Atlanta this coming weekend. I’ve been working on my intro speech and rallying cry for the past couple of weeks. My hope is to not make a complete fool of myself so I’ve been harassing friends and family with my drafts, and practicing (something I almost never do for anything), on my intro. My 4 and 6 year old are not as attentive as I’d like, but my son told me he’ll listen as long as I need him to, so long as I’m giving him a piggy back ride while doing it. (I hope that doesn’t lead to any same state learning issues or I may have to make a very awkward request of the most diminutive attendee I can find.) I’m gonna try and nail it without cards or notes. I usually speak without them, but I also usually ramble and take about 3 times longer than I should and confuse people when I’m done, so preparing something ahead of time that is succinct and rehearsed will be something new for me! The only thing I have going for me is that I passionately believe in what I’m going to say, (and my flight will take around 4 or 5 hours with all my bizarre connections) so I think I have a decent shot of pulling this off.

Send your prayers and feelings of goodwill my way. Believe it or not, I’m sometimes a little shy and self-conscious in person, but when I read your comments or private e-mails they really do lift me up, make me feel more confident, and sometimes I believe I can do anything – so long as I lead with my heart. (I guess that’s a cliché for a reason?)  It really helps that I’m fighting for others – for something greater than me.  In case you were wondering I’ve given really long presentation in the past. . . but it’s pretty hard to talk passionately and interestingly about data element types, field lengths, and cross edits, but I managed to do that for years, so this should be a nice change – and with fewer sleeping audience members I hope.

For those of you interested, here are the details on this conference. ( As you will see, I have a busy weekend ahead of me. )

Obviously I’ve highlighted the most important meeting of the conference. J

All my co-panelists are on Wikipedia, so if any of you are Wikipedia writers. . . well I think you know what to do before this weekend. J

I’ve tentatively highlighted or colored in green font everything I plan to attend from my cozy office chair. I think I can attend everything but Community Organizing Strategies. If I find anyone looking to talk about some local collaborating I may have to skip something because it looks like a pretty full schedule.


Regional Convening to Stop the Privatizing Movement in the South

All sessions are in Chattahoochee Salon unless otherwise indicated

Friday, September 20

5:00 – 8:00 PM Registration

7:00 – 8:00 PM Opening Reception (Grand Salon D)

Saturday, September 21

7:00 – 8:30 AM Breakfast (Grand Promenade)

8:30 – 9:00 AM Skype Session – Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education, NYU

9:00 – 10:15 AM Welcome

Kent McGuire, President and CEO, Southern Education Foundation

Katrina Gamble, Civic Engagement and Political Director, Leadership Center for the Common Good

The South: Ground Zero for Privatizing Public Education

Earl Wiman, Executive Committee Member, National Education Association

Steve Suitts, Vice President, Southern Education Foundation

10:30 – 12:30 PM State Reports: Where We Stand, Challenges, and Goals for the Future

Participating states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee,Texas, and Virginia

12:30 – 1:45 PM Lunch

Mike Leachman, Director of State Fiscal Research, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Eric Zachary, Director, AFT Human Rights and Community Relations Department

2:00 – 3:30 PM Legislative Strategies

Nancy Loome, Executive Director, The Parents’ Campaign (MS)

Kathleen Oropeza, Co-Founder, Fund Education Now (FL) Brittny Saunders, Senior Staff Attorney, Center for Popular Democracy

Moderator: Taimarie Adams, Education Policy Specialist,

Progressive States Network

3:30 – 4:00 PM Break

4:00 – 5:30 PM Messaging Issues and Strategies

Leslie Winner, Executive Director, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation

Hank Klibanoff, Cox Professor of Journalism, Emory University

Jason France, Education Blogger, Crazy Crawfish

Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director, Fair Test

Moderator: Ramona Oliver, Senior Director,

NEA’s Center for Communications

5:45 – 6:45 PM Breakout Sessions (Choose one)

Community Organizing Strategies

Zakiyah Ansari, Advocacy Director, Alliance for Quality Education

Kenton Cooper, Organizational Specialist, National Education Association Karey Harwood, Executive Director, Public Schools First NC

Moderator: Pat McCoy, Executive Director, Action NC

Litigation and Research Strategies

Julian Vasquez Heilig, Professor of Education Policy and Planning, University of Texas at Austin

Les Landon, Public Relations Director, Louisiana Federation of Teachers Jerri Katzerman, Deputy Legal Director, Children at Risk Program

of the Southern Poverty Law Center

Moderator: Katherine Dunn, Program Officer,

Southern Education Foundation

6:45 – 7:30 PM Reception

7:30 – 9:00 PM Dinner and Speaker

Warren Simmons, Executive Director, Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University

Sunday, September 22

7:00 – 8:30 AM Breakfast and Checkout (Grand Promenade)

8:30 – 9:30 AM Coalition Building Strategies

Hon. Joyce Elliott, Arkansas State Senator

Ed Martin, Director of Public Affairs, Texas State Teachers Association

Matt Jones, Co-Founder, EmpowerEd Georgia

Moderator: Kent McGuire, President and CEO, Southern Education Foundation

9:30 – 11:15 AM Regional Discussions: Sharing of Ideas and Strategies Along State Lines

11:15 – 11:45 AM Closing Session

Evie Frankl, Education Organizing Director, Leadership Center for the Common Good

Steve Suitts, Vice President, Southern Education Foundation

11:45 – 12:30 PM Keynote – Rev. William Barber II, President, NC NAACP

12:30 – 2:00 PM Lunch (Grand Promenade)

Wish me luck!