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Our school

It is my hope that you are all safe, healthy, and ready to finish this unparalleled school year strong! We are closing in on the last weeks of classes, and I could not be prouder of how our school community rallied together and supported each other through this year like no other.

That especially goes for our teachers, who had to juggle the needs of their students engaging over computer monitors, those spread out in their classrooms, and their own desires to deliver the highest quality education they could to each of their young wards.

And they did. They rose to the occasion, scrambling their schedules to cater to their students and stepping in to lift the load for their colleagues who faced greater challenges at home due to this terrible pandemic.

Again, I could not be prouder of their resolve and their achievements. Now it is our time to show them the respect and love they have earned and deserve. As National Teacher Appreciation Week draws to a close, I am reflecting on two things: How we can reassure them that we see their hard work as so much more than just letter grades and graduations, and how we can best honor their commitment and heart.

On that first note, I know the disquiet that state standardized testing can bring. They have resumed this spring after being suspended last year due to the pandemic. It is an easy path to simply see the long hours, the extra tutoring, the unrelenting patience our teachers must marshal condensed into a single letter grade. But I’m here to tell you that our teachers’ work is so much more than this mere summation. I want you all to think about what we don’t see: The teacher who took a student struggling with reading under her arm and by the end of the year, had him dispensing words and sentences as fast as his peers. The teacher who saw confusion in the face of a student confronting a confounding math problem in September only to solve such equations without second thoughts by May.

Students may still only do so well on the state standardized test, but the growth of their learning in these short few months is as amazing as it is incalculable – and it is a direct reflection of what an inspiring, dedicated teacher can do.

To the second note, this is where we all can pitch in. Appreciation for our teachers should not be confined to one week out of the year. It should be something we contemplate every day of every school year. So consider this a call to action: Each of you reading this, please thank the teacher of your child. Show your gratitude in small ways, big ways, and every way in between. At NOLA Public Schools, we are actively planning new avenues to show our teachers how much we value them. As we roll out more details this summer and into the next school year, think about how you can join us in these celebrations. And think of what you can do yourselves. It can be as elaborate as treated lunch at a favorite restaurant or as simple as a personal thankyou note to an inspiring educator. All I ask is that you don’t let an opportunity pass by that you could let a teacher know how much you care and how grateful you are. I know I will be doing the same.

In Service,

Dr. Henderson Lewis, Jr.
Like so many of you, I watched the conviction of the ex-police officer who murdered George Floyd in Minnesota with sadness over the loss of a life, but also with renewed resolve that we owe it to each other to make the most of this tragedy. Now is the time for us to come together as a family, a school community, a city, and fight the good fight so that one day, we all see each other as fellow human beings living our lives as best we can.

If not now, when?

This will not be an easy road. But I would argue that our family at NOLA Public Schools is in a perfect position to take the first steps. Overcoming the evils of racism starts with preparing our children to strive for a just and equitable future.

As I said in March when we launched our commemoration of the 180th anniversary of public education in New Orleans, I have made equity for all our students the central goal of my tenure as Superintendent of Schools.

This means giving every child, regardless, of culture, means, color, or creed, the tools they need to achieve greatness; to become informed, strong, just, civic-minded leaders of tomorrow.

At NOLA-PS, we have embarked on several initiatives to move in the right direction. Our strategic planning for the next four years is underway, and we have made that process more transparent and inclusive than ever. We’ve created numerous pathways – focus groups, community surveys, public forums and an Ideas Bank – to collect your thoughts on what you want to see from your public school community. Your voice matters. Go to nolapublicschools.com/nola-ps-strategic-planning to join the conversation.

We have brought on Beloved Community to perform a deep dive into our culture at NOLA-PS with the goal to find hopeful ways to promote awareness and racial equity among our own staff.

And we are engaging our schools to support their needs so that they can tend to their students and families challenged by poverty, hunger, and violence every day. These difficulties will not go away when this pandemic ends, and we must be there for our most vulnerable children, to shelter them, to re-engage them with learning, now and in the days ahead.

In the meantime, I encourage you all to keep safe, get vaccinated, mask up in public and engage in all the necessary safety measures so that we can finally beat COVID-19 and return to the hugs and handshakes we all know our teachers and students have dearly missed these past few months.

The finish line is on the horizon. We will get through this, together.

In Service,

Dr. Henderson Lewis, Jr.
As we head into Spring Break, I hope this finds you healthy, happy, and excited not only about our success at keeping COVID-19 at bay in our schools but also about the prospect of soon returning every one of our students and educators to their classrooms where we all know the best learning and teaching takes place.

We made great strides toward that goal in the past few weeks. So many of our teachers and staff are now fully vaccinated, and our safety procedures and access to testing continue to protect our school community. Now I want to encourage those educators and staff who have not been vaccinated to take advantage of the opportunities to do so. The same goes for our students 16 and older. Every shot in an arm is a boost of safety for all of us.

Our progress and successes during this challenging time are direct results of us coming together, listening to each other, and working as a team united in this fight. It’s not over yet – we must not let our guard down and still follow our COVID safety guidelines – but we can confidently say we are much better off than we were a year ago.

In a lot of ways, this pandemic was the first major, collective challenge we have faced since reunification three years ago. And our success illustrates the strength of our unique community of schools.

But it was not always this way for public education in New Orleans. Efforts to teach our children through the years have constantly been subjected to the pushes and pulls of social change, for better and for worse.

I bring this up because last Friday, we kicked off what will be a year-long commemoration of the 180th anniversary of the start of public education in New Orleans. It is a long and complicated history. While there have been advances since 1841 – Emancipation, Reconstruction, Desegregation – there have also been original sins and setbacks – Slavery, Jim Crow, and Systemic Racism.

We continue to push through toward a better, more inclusive, more equitable education experience for all our students. This past year has taught us that there is still much work to do, but we are heading in the right direction. I encourage you to watch and reflect on the words shared with us last week by former Sen. Mary Landrieu, Mayor LaToya Cantrell, and Cedric Richmond, a NOLA-PS alum and our former congressman who is now a senior advisor to President Biden. They have all been integral to the advancement of public education in New Orleans. It is a baton they pass to our new School Board, which Sen. Landrieu pointed out is one of the most diverse and progressive in recent times.

Let us capitalize on that new sense of purpose. We are launching a new strategic planning effort to guide NOLA-PS for the next four years. Rather than resort to a typical bureaucratic tactic of designing this plan internally, we are taking a different tack: We want your input. We have asked our schools, our educators, our students and our communities to submit their ideas, to ask questions, and to participate in the process of planning for the future of our unique community of schools.

In Service,

Dr. Henderson Lewis, Jr.

One year ago, New Orleans first went into lockdown and we closed schools for in-person learning as the COVID-19 pandemic surged. Since then, our lives have changed so much and there has been much lost. But we’ve also learned a great deal about the strength and resilience of the people of this city and across our school community. Despite any challenges the pandemic brought our way, together we found a way to push forward and today I feel optimistic that the future is brighter.

 We are nearing the one-year milestone of the pandemic’s impact on our school system, and I continue to be proud of what we’ve been able to achieve together as a community in support of our students.

A year ago, I was meeting with school leaders to quickly plan for the anticipated transition to distance learning. This week, with the return of our high school students back to classrooms, all NOLA-PS students once again have the opportunity to participate to in-person learning. We are so happy to welcome them back as we know our students thrive academically, socially, and emotionally when with their teachers and peers.

I hope this message finds you and your loved ones safe, healthy and in good spirits during this holiday season. As we prepare to close the books on a year like no other, I’d like us all to reflect on how the experiences of this year have readied us for a hopeful and sure-to-be momentous 2021.

2020 has been a year of challenges, historic societal change, and a renewed appreciation for the beauty of life. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of our lives in some shape or form. We should take time at the start of this new year to remember and grieve for those we have lost and to express our gratitude to those who fought – and continue to fight – to save others. We are grateful for their dedication.

And we are no less grateful to those in our school community, our teachers, school and district staff, and school leaders, who moved mountains to ensure that our students stayed connected and kept learning through the worst of the pandemic, so many members of our community have stepped up to help those who need it most. And to parents who, through it all, have been working overtime, turning kitchens and living rooms into classrooms, while juggling work, school and childcare.

The perseverance everyone has shown gives me confidence that we can beat this crisis. When we asked the NOLA community to step up to stop the spread of the virus - the people answered - going above and beyond to protect each other and reduce community spread. The actions we all took as a community allowed us to once again open our school doors to students this Fall - a goal that took months of planning and coordination between NOLA-PS, our local leaders, hospitals and public health experts.
While we will continue a mix of in-person and distance learning when school resumes this month, my new year’s resolution is to have every child in our community of schools back in the classroom by the start of the fall semester 2021.

I cannot stress how important the return to in-person learning has been for our students, and how important it will be in the year ahead - particularly for our youngest learners. Schools are so much more than physical spaces where we send our children to learn math, reading, geography or writing. Schools are living, breathing learning environments where our youngest gain skills and valuable lessons that help them succeed in education and in life. For our most vulnerable students, schools are often safe spaces that provide nutrition and access to resources that extend far beyond the education space. Books and lessons might help students learn - but schools are where we develop the whole child.

This pandemic has left indelible change on the way students are taught. By investing in Chromebooks and hotspots for our students, we have narrowed the digital divide in our community and leveraged technology to forge new ways to teach. As Lake Forest Elementary Charter School CEO Mardele Early said when I visited her in October, in some ways we will never go back to the old way of doing things. As we enter 2021, we should embrace that good change where we can for the sake of our students.

While our community and the nation grappled with the pandemic, we also faced a reckoning when it comes to systemic inequity and racism. These are issues that deeply impact our students and staff, and are lived experiences for a community as diverse as ours. NOLA-PS will be doubling down our efforts to move equity and inclusion forward in our school community. While we certainly have taken some great strides in this regard, there is so much work left to be done when it comes to ensuring that our schools and greater community is equitable for all people - no matter who they are or where they are from. I’m looking forward to engaging with members of our school community on these critical issues in the weeks and months ahead.

The past year wasn’t easy, but at the end of the day, we made it through. As we look ahead to the new year, I have more than 45,000 reasons to be hopeful - one for each and every student at our schools.

Together, we can do this.

In Service,

Dr. Henderson Lewis, Jr.
Superintendent, NOLA Public Schools

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Hotline Number for Parents
504-527-KIDS

School-based issues or concerns from parents

24-hour Hotline Number for Community
504-522-HELP
District based community concerns, feedback, & inquiries from school staff or community members