I remember vividly the uproar following Katrina at the prospect that the New Orleans Saints might be permanently relocated to San Antonio or Los Angeles. The thought that we would lose our home team was too much, as if the devastation from Katrina had not been demoralizing enough.
I was an avid Saints fan despite the rare winning season. Growing up in Shreveport, where the local television station mostly aired the Cowboys’ games on Sunday, my father and I followed the Saints on the radio. Loyal to our team, we were unbothered by their mediocrity, making excuses for 8-8 seasons. But Katrina and the threat of losing the Saints changed that. Fortunately, league officials and local leaders kept the team in New Orleans, and suddenly, we felt a new sense of responsibility to fight, strive, and win. Gone was the era of the “Aint’s.” Ownership and the fan base invested in a new coach in Sean Payton, a new team leader in Drew Brees, and used the reopening of the Superdome to set a path towards a rebirth and championship – accomplished for the first time in 2009. We dodged what would have been a devastating blow and raised our expectations.
Like many in Baton Rouge, I’ve followed with great interest the debate over establishing a new school district and now a new city in the southeastern part of the parish. The motivations and arguments for and against St. George have been widely noted. However, the current vision seems to fixate on geographical boundaries and control as if these things make great schools. We need to have conversations about what it actually takes to create winning schools for all children, whether they are in the central, northern, or southeastern parts of our city. Losing the Saints would have been catastrophic. Keeping them and continuing with mediocre results would have missed the entire point of having an NFL team. That’s just football, though. Our public schools have much higher stakes for all of us.
Baton Rouge is home to some phenomenal schools; at the same time, it’s also home to some of Louisiana and the nation’s lowest performing ones. Whether new cities pop up overnight won’t change the reality that all children are not receiving the education that they deserve. At New Schools for Baton Rouge, we started our work by focusing on our most vulnerable schools, which are concentrated in North Baton Rouge. We are raising start-up resources to recruit and launch proven, high-performing schools that are run by independent, local non-profit boards, held accountable for the academic success of their students. Let’s have a conversation about how this can be a blueprint for building a shared vision of school success for every child in every neighborhood, regardless of where the lines may be drawn.