Katrina Watch: Wanted: Teachers

New Orleans school officials struggle to lure teachers to the Crescent City.

On the eve of opening an abbreviated list of public schools to a fraction of the usual number of students, administrators in New Orleans were scrambling to hire enough teachers, even as they dreamed of making an example of the floundering school district. “As devastating as this time has been, it gives the state of Louisiana the once-in-a-lifetime chance to get urban education right,” says Linda Johnson, president of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Quality instructors are essential to rebuilding efforts, so the state-run Recovery School District (RSD), which was originally established in 2003 and took over 112 of the city’s academically troubled schools, began advertising for teachers last spring in media outlets across Louisiana, Texas and other states where large numbers of displaced New Orleanians now live. Although the campaign drew roughly 1,000 applicants—just days before class was to start in September for a projected 8,000 students in 17 RSD schools—only 292 teachers were on the payroll. The search continued for up to 150 additional instructors.

Looking to the future, in a district made up of 128 schools, the RSD has begun mining for prospects at Teach for America, which taps recent college grads to serve in at-risk schools. It is also partnering with the University of New Orleans, which in January will start grooming professionals from other backgrounds to teach. “We’re coming up against obstacles,” says RSD superintendent Robin Jarvis. “But for us there’s a vision that the school system in New Orleans will be better than before.”

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