Neerav Kingsland lives and breathes numbers. But when you ask the chief strategy officer of New Schools for New Orleans about this city’s remarkable efforts to rebuild its schools in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he starts not with statistics but with the story of Bridget Green.
A young woman whose grades earned her the distinction of valedictorian of her 2003 high school class, Green never gave the commencement speech or walked across the stage with her classmates. Despite five tries, she was unable to pass the math-competency exit exam required for graduation. . . .
So sure are New Orleans officials of the work being done to turn around schools that they think they can become a model for urban education reform, proof that students of any color, income level or social background can achieve if schools do their job. Indeed, Kingsland — who came here as an undergraduate at Tulane and entered education reform through a (failed, he admits) stint mentoring impoverished students — argues that the transformation in this city may turn out to be the most significant national development in education since desegregation. . . .
To those who argue that the overarching effects of poverty prevent children from learning, Principal Mary H.L. Laurie has a terse answer: “Then don’t come to work here.”