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November 14, 2019

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Leaders Struggle to Bolster New Orleans Schools

In the latest in a series of reports on urban school reform, John Merrow reports on how the schools chief in New Orleans plans to deal with some of the most troubled schools in a city still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

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    Now, another of our reports on changing the public school systems in Washington, D.C., and New Orleans. The NewsHour's special correspondent for education, John Merrow, reported on the latest from Washington last night.

    Tonight, he returns to New Orleans, and he looks at the plans for dealing with some of the toughest schools.

    PAUL VALLAS, superintendent, New Orleans Recovery School District: We don't want to lose a single student.

    JOHN MERROW, NewsHour correspondent: From the moment school superintendent Paul Vallas arrived in New Orleans last July, he's been selling his vision of the future.


    All the schools in the entire system will begin their day next year at 8:00 and they'll go to 4:30. All of our eighth- and ninth-graders will be in school year-round.


    With a mandate to turn around the Recovery School District, basically the city's worst schools, Paul Vallas is planning a massive redesign of the district's high schools.


    We cannot afford anything less than excellence.

    All the high school principals know that, beginning next year, their schools are going to begin their transition to the future, so to speak.


    Rabouin is Vallas' largest high school, where only 50 percent of seniors graduated last year.


    The plan here is to transition Rabouin into an international high school with a very large international baccalaureate program.


    But at Rabouin, teachers have been too busy dealing with day-to-day concerns to spend much time thinking about Vallas' grand plans.


    He's on my schedule somewhere. Wait a minute.


    Scheduling problems at the beginning of the school year left students in the wrong classes well into October.

    RACHEL HAMMER, teacher, Rabouin High School: Students would just be walking up and down the hallway like during class, so it was just a lot of traffic. It was like a circus.


    Rachel Hammer is a first-year science teacher.


    I had several moments of crying and weeping in front of my class and being like, "You do not deserve this." It was just this really tense environment, and morale was just plummeting.

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