Shelby: This is Simone Smith. She is a senior at a high-performing science school in New Orleans called Sci Academy, and she has applied to 13 universities.
Simone: I want to go to Princeton. I want very much to go to Princeton.
Shelby: Simone has got big plans for the future.
Simone: I want to be an actress, an attaché, hopefully one day secretary of defense. Yeah, I’ve got big dreams.
Shelby: But those big dreams may have never even been possible after one of the most powerful and destructive storms to ever hit the nation struck her hometown in 2005.
Schools here in New Orleans were hit hard by Hurricane Katrina. And now, nearly eight years later, many classes are still being held in trailers like these that were set up as temporary classrooms after the storm.
Landrieu: Every building was underwater. Everybody that worked for the system didn’t exist anymore in terms of the jobs that were there or the schools. And we had to piece it back together.
Shelby: New Orleans did piece it back together – not as the traditional school system it was, but mostly as a charter school system, privately run, but publicly funded. Teachers and principals are hired, fired and promoted based on performance. And parents and students are given the freedom to chose the schools they want.
Landrieu: Well, one of the things we had the ability to do was to actually physically rebuild every school with FEMA reimbursements and with other money.
Shelby: But even though there is obviously a lot of rebuilding left to do, many students are doing better in school now than they were before Katrina. Before Katrina, the graduation rate was less than 50%. Now it is more than 75%. And test scores are up 33%.
Landrieu: What’s happening now is the achievement level of the kids in the inner city is now beginning to match the kids on the statewide level in a very, very short period of time. And finally, if you go into any charter school in New Orleans right now and you ask a kid when is he going to graduate, what he tells you is when he’s going to graduate from college. And so they really have their eyes focused on, ‘I’ve got a future ahead of me. I intend to finish school. I don’t intend to drop out.’
Shelby: And all this change has meant a world of difference.
Simone: I don’t think I would be here if I wasn’t able to pick the high school that I wanted to go to because I don’t feel like you can be truly educated without having a choice. I think having a choice is kind of education.
Shelby Holliday, Channel One News.