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Schools Chief in New Orleans Faces Tough Road to Rebuilding

In the newest in a series of reports on reforming troubled school systems, John Merrow returns to New Orleans for an update on how the city's schools chief is faring in his attempts to enact change in a system still working to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

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    And now another in our series on two public school leaders facing tough challenges. On Monday, John Merrow reported on the ongoing efforts to reform the Washington, D.C., school system. Tonight, he updates how the new head of the New Orleans schools is doing.

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

    … because she set that bar high. And if you set the bar high, the higher you set it, the higher your children are going to perform.

  • JOHN MERROW, NewsHour Special Correspondent:

    Ever since arriving in New Orleans in July, school superintendent Paul Vallas has been on the move. He spends a good part of each day building support in the community.


    We are currently trying to secure enough money to, in effect, do 40 renovations over the next couple of years.


    And making sweeping changes in the classroom.


    Well, let's think about how we do math. Kids who struggle in reading often move much faster in math.


    It's a whirlwind schedule for the 53-year-old Vallas.


    My day will usually begin about 7:30 in the morning, particularly if I'm doing a school visit. And my day will usually end about — an early day for me is 6:30. A late day for me is 9:30, 10:00.


    After successful, if controversial, appointments running the much larger Chicago and Philadelphia school systems, Paul Vallas was brought in to rescue the state-run Recovery School District, 60 schools, 12,000 students.

    The people of New Orleans expect a lot from him.

  • KARRAN HARPER ROYAL, Recovery School District Advisory Committee:

    We know the key to rebuilding our community is getting great schools in our neighborhoods.


    New Orleans parent Karran Harper Royal serves on the Recovery School District advisory committee.


    I know many people who have not come home to New Orleans yet because the schools are not up and running in many of our most devastated neighborhoods. If you build a wonderful school, bricks and mortar, great program, the community supporting it, people will begin to come back.


    Building strong schools is at the heart of Vallas' plan. He's working with a budget of almost $250 million, a mix of state funding and federal restart monies.


    We did a great job preparing those buildings to the best of our ability. I mean, the buildings are clean and painted, and the bathrooms have been repaired, and the hot lunches and all that. The technology in the classrooms, the new textbooks, the modern furniture, I think all of these things are making for a better learning environment.


    Emboldened by his early accomplishments, Vallas is feeling confident.


    If within two years this district has not significantly improved, if I have not achieved 90 percent of what I've promised, then, you know, by right, you know, they should put me on the Amtrak and send me back home to Chicago.