It Took Too Long. It Might Be Too Late.

Dec 1, 2011 by

From March 6, 2008:

The first building I visited was Little Woods Elementary. I could drive right onto the parking area in front of the main building and walk around on the grounds. The main building had pieces of plywood bolted over every opening, which wasn’t that difficult to do – it is a building of fairly recent vintage (okay, 1972. Architect: Edward M.Y. Tsoi) with few windows and a good number of doors that had at one time opened into each classroom. The one casualty to this security measure was the door handles and doorknobs, which had had to be ripped out so that the plywood would lie flat against each door.

I learned the drill at Little Woods. It might look like a secured fortress discouraging visitors, but there was always a wide open gate to the grounds, and there was always an open door or a knocked-out window somewhere that gave me easy access to the ruined insides. Before I learned about the open door, however, I drove around to the back of the school grounds, which could be viewed from a cul-de-sac behind the school. A lady opened the door to her recently restored home, and her mop of a dog said hello, running towards my feet and wriggling with delight at the attention I was giving him. She asked me why I was there, and I told her I was taking pictures of the school, that there was a planning meeting about what was to be done with the facility that night at the Village De L’Est school not far from Michoud Boulevard.

“Well, they took out all the portables and the furniture, and ripped out the A/C units,” she told me, pointing to the empty shells on the roof that once housed the units. “I put three children through school there, and one grandchild as well. It’s very quiet now,” she said wistfully. It must have been especially lonely where she was situated – she was in one of the few fully restored houses in the area, though a lot of work was being done on others and a set of apartments across from the school on Curran had reopened… but the occupancy level there was still low.

“I’m working with some folks who want to see what can be done about this,” I said, knowing deep down that unless many, many more people such as herself stood up and hollered that they didn’t want their neighborhood school to be left behind, it would be demolished, and who knows if anything would be put back in its place right away?

“Well…you can’t fight City Hall,” she said with sad resignation, in a voice that hinted at hard-won knowledge in that regard.

A glimpse of Little Woods then, one of many:

And here’s Little Woods on this past Monday:

It’s good to see that it’s not too late for Little Woods Elementary, but I wonder about the rest of the city’s public school facilities that desperately need the repairs or the starts from scratch – nearby residents have been complaining a great deal about what the construction work on Frantz Elementary in the Ninth Ward has been doing to their houses, and there have been loads of extra meetings involving nearby residents, parents, and school administrators on how best to handle issues such as traffic control during pick up and drop off times at Audubon Charter School, as well as how to handle traffic when the construction will be in full swing. The repairs to these long-neglected school buildings are badly needed, but they threaten to be further delayed by nearby residents’ “not in my backyard” attitudes, making for some strange tug-of-wars among parties that will all benefit in the long run. It’s all one huge, nasty gift from the longtime graft under the old OPSB that keeps on giving.

If the schools were being run as they were originally intended – as centers for their neighborhoods – then the traffic problems probably wouldn’t be as bad as they currently are. The idea that kids could walk or ride their bikes to school holds more water when the school is only serving the kids who live within a certain tight radius around the school building. When schools are operating as semi-autonomous charters with no transportation budget…helloooo, traffic, and hello to the complaints and objections of the neighbors. That is the gift that the current “system of schools” is giving everyone in New Orleans, whether all of you like it or not.

What to do? Think about what you’re objecting to as a nearby resident and look at its root causes. As a parent and administrator, consider the people who live nearby the school and respect their permanence. As people who are paying for the schools, whether our children attend them or not, we must all band together and look for better solutions in the short AND long terms, if only because we must all actively counter the attitudes that write off generation after generation for the here and now.


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