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. . .