John White to oversee Recovery School District
Former deputy chancellor of the New York City Department of Education John White will take over as the new superintendent of the New Orleans Recovery School District May 1. White will replace former superintendent Paul Vallas, who is moving on to oversee educational development in Chile and Haiti.
The Recovery School District, administered by the Louisiana Department of Education, manages schools that the state has taken control of due to poor performance. It encompasses 104 schools across Louisiana, mostly in New Orleans. Though the Recovery School District was established in 2003, it grew substantially following Hurricane Katrina, taking over most New Orleans public schools. Since then, it has opened up various charter schools throughout the state in an effort to assess which models do and do not work for establishing schools.
White has been applauded for his work for New York in shutting down failing schools and finding space for new schools to be opened. The Recovery School District is starting a $1.8 billion effort to replace the city’s failing schools.
“One of the major roles that the new superintendent will have will be to oversee the School Facilities Master Plan that will result in either new construction or renovation of approximately 88 school over the next seven to ten years,” said Cowen Institute Policy Manager Tara O’Neill. “That’s a huge undertaking.”
Many New Orleans residents have expressed concern that the local school district is outsourcing to find leadership.
“It’s kind of interesting that we’re permanently able to not run our own affairs,” Sociology Department Chair Carl Bankston said. “Normally, school boards hire locally-elected officials. Here, we have somebody from Chicago replaced by somebody from New York. It looks like schools are being permanently run from the outside.”
While New Orleans residents are hopeful that he will continue to make progress in the Recovery School District, they do not necessarily think that the election of a new superintendent will cause any drastic changes in the way that the school system functions.
“It’s fairly safe to say that he’s not going to revolutionize things,” Bankston said. “Probably what we can hope for from John White would be continued improvement, not any kind of dramatic transformation of the school landscape. For that, we’d have to have a dramatic transformation of the landscape of the city. It is still a low-income city with limited jobs available. There is room for schools to improve, but they don’t live in a vacuum.”
Many Tulane students involved in public service work at schools in the Recovery School District, such as the Benjamin Banneker Elementary school.
“One of the most important programs to [the Center for Public Service] is based in the RSD. It’s called For the Children,” said Amanda Buberger, assistant director of campus community partnerships. “We have about 200 students working there this semester. It’s one of our most significant projects, and we hope the superintendent continues to support it.”
Buberger is confident that White’s election will not negatively impact Tulane’s involvement in the Recovery School District.
“We’re always open to working with new leadership as it comes in,” Buberger said. “Superintendents come and go. What we need to do is build new relationships and educate them about what we are doing as much as possible. We need to gain their support, and often times, it’s not very difficult.”
Until White begins to work as superintendent, it is hard to say whether or not he will be effective in the position, Bankston said.
“The Orleans Parish school board was such a mess before RSD stepped in,” Bankston said. “We don’t know about this new guy yet, except for the fact that he arguably was involved in closing down schools in New York. That may suggest that RSD is going to continue to be largely outside the hands of local people, which may not be an entirely negative thing.”