Imagine my surprise when I picked up the local paper during a recent trip to New Orleans and saw a familiar looking face on the front page.
Accompanying a story about NOLA's changing educational landscape post Katrina was a photo of Anthony "We will never be last again" Amato.
Remember him? He was Harford's former school superintendent, who vowed that Hartford would never again be last on Connecticut Mastery test results. He's now head of the International High School of New Orleans.
It got me thinking of what was going on before I left Hartford for a few days: An embarrassing debacle over choosing the city's new school superintendent. Education once again taking a back seat to politics.
(Photo by Chris Granger/Times-Picayune)
At least according to the article in the Times-Picayune, the education system in another city with a historically troubled school system was changing for the better.
Lots of new choices for students in NOLA - mostly with a majority of new charter schools.
On the way over to the schools where I was volunteering, one of the local organizers told us a sadly typical story of many city residents. She lost everything during the 2005 storm. Her home. Her business. Most upsetting to her, pictures and mementos she can never replace.
But like many of the locals I met while there, she was also anxious to tell visitors about how far she and New Orleans had come since the hurricane. Houses, including her own, were repaired as good as new, she said. Businesses were open and growing. Some things were in fact better after the storm than they were before it - specifically, she said, the schools.
I asked a teacher about the educational improvements. He was blunt. "It sucks. Don't let anyone tell you different."
To prove his point, he offered me some numbers: Before Katrina, he said, there were 128 schools in the city. After, 76. Before Katrina, he added, there were 60,000 students. After, around 40,000 -- many of whom, he said, didn't attend a day of school while they were displaced.
Some of the buildings might be new - though the schools where I volunteered were still located in trailers. But, he said, the educational system is still a mess.
There's a lesson there, I think - for people in New Orleans, but also for us here in Hartford.
We can't get sidetracked by shiny new buildings or even new superintendents.
We need to turn and keep the focus on the one thing that too often gets overlooked, the education of the city's children.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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