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New Orleans School Chief Tackles Rebuilding Shattered System

In the second of two reports on efforts to improve education in urban public schools, education correspondent John Merrow explores the plans underway in New Orleans to create a new school system in a city still struggling to rebuild from Hurricane Katrina.

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  • PAUL VALLAS, Superintendent, New Orleans Recovery School District:

    If you set the bar high, the higher you set it, the higher the schools are going to perform.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    Residing over this emerging sense of optimism is Paul Vallas, the new superintendent of schools.

  • PAUL VALLAS:

    So, you know, you want to become a civil rights leader, become a teacher. You want to get involved in the greatest, the greatest chapter in the American civil rights movement, dedicate yourself to the education of our young people.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    New Orleans has become a magnet for idealistic educators. This year, the district hired about 500 new teachers from around the country.

  • PAUL VALLAS:

    God knows we've got the superior teachers, do we not?

  • JOHN MERROW:

    Among the new teachers listening to their new leader were Jake Kuhnline and Kady Amundson of Rabouin High School.

  • KADY AMUNDSON, Teacher, Rabouin High School:

    I love the energy of today. I love the fact that everybody is really, really positive about what we can do in New Orleans.

  • JAKE KUHNLINE, Teacher, Rabouin High School:

    What he brings is high expectations, of course, but also a sense of urgency. You can hear it in his voice.

  • JOHN MERROW:

    Paul Vallas comes to New Orleans after running two large city school systems, Chicago, with 414,000 students, and Philadelphia, with 172,000. Even before Katrina, New Orleans had only 62,000 students.

  • PAUL VALLAS:

    I think I've had a pretty good track record of success. And I think, given the fact that this district is much smaller, I'm confident that we can transform the system.

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