School Superintendent Looks to Hurricane Katrina as Model of Reform
by Phil Inskalop
Following the downgrade of New Bedford Public Schools to Tier 4 on the statewide accountability scale, Superintendant Paula Dunkin cited the success of Hurricane Katrina in bringing positive results to a failing school system.
“The school district in New Orleans was one of the worst in the country before the storm,” Ms. Dunkin told reporters, referring to the devastating 2005 hurricane that flooded 80% of the city and left a trail of destruction across the Gulf Coast. “And now it’s an incredible success story.”
Asked if the Superintendant wished to see a category 3 hurricane make landfall in the city to facilitate such drastic improvement, she said “Oh my, no! Absolutely not. I think we can all agree that Hurricane Katrina was just terrible.” She paused. “But I’m just saying.”
In reference to New Bedford’s hurricane barrier, Dunkin’s eyes narrowed. “Yes. The hurricane barrier,” she muttered darkly.
Each year, experts warn New Bedford residents that our luck in avoiding the ultimate test of a category 3 hurricane against our barrier cannot continue. “We can only hope,” said Paula Dunkin, “that it will continue,” hastily adding, “of course.”
Faced with the prospect of a catastrophic weather event forcing our school system to be rebuilt from the ground up, local teachers are nearly unanimously unavailable for comment.
“It’d be nice. It’d be really nice,” said Paul Gerrins, a geography teacher at Keith Middle School. “Not the hurricane part, of course, that was all just so awful,” he said, referring to the national tragedy that left nearly two thousand dead and caused untold billions of dollars of damage to one of our nation’s great cities. “Those reforms, though…” he trailed off, smacking his lips.
The decentralization of New Orleans schools, including reduced administrative power from the school board and an influx of education entrepreneurs, has the district performing beyond even pre-storm expectations.
New Bedford schools have failed to make significant improvement in recent years.
Diana Carroll, parent of a kindergartner at Abraham Lincoln school, said, “Yes, I’m worried about my daughter’s future, with how the schools have been.”
Shown the pre- and post-Katrina statistics for New Orleans, she said, “Wow, that’s amazing! I mean, Katrina was just, well, the worst thing, but, hey 24% increase? That’s pretty impressive.”
Harold Grist, an alumni of Teach For America and employee of charter school system KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) states that, “we’d love to have the opportunity in school systems like New Bedford that we had in New Orleans.”
“Of course, without the whole living-nightmare-for-those-fortunate-enough-to-survive-it aspect. But, man, could we make some strides.”