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Our school

We have come a long, long way.

As I reflect on my six years as Superintendent of Schools, I am proud of what we have gained for our students, families, and educators of New Orleans. I am also honored by the trust this community placed in me to lead NOLA Public Schools at such an important moment in our history.

We have accomplished so much, together. Our public schools New Orleans are now under local control, where they belong. We built frameworks to balance high standards with encircling support for our schools, forming an educational community like no other in this nation. We found a unique way to prize creativity in our classrooms while demanding a quality foundation that gives our students the tools to compete toe-to-toe and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their counterparts everywhere. And best of all, we found ways to talk to each other, to problem-solve as a team unified in our dedication to ensure every child thrives, academically, socially, emotionally – no matter their race, gender, creed, or economic circumstance.

The COVID-19 pandemic, for all the fear it wrought, proved the quality of our craftsmanship. We led the nation in keeping our schools safe, reopening our classrooms, and providing access to food, technology, COVID testing and vaccines for those in need. None of that could have been accomplished without the community you helped me build around our schools.

My time as Superintendent is now coming to a close. I announced earlier this week that I would not seek a renewal of my contract with the Orleans Parish School Board. I made that decision without reservation, because another important attribute of a good leader is to recognize when it is time for new ideas, new dreams, and new visionaries to pick up the torch.

I chose to make my announcement a year before my allotted time was up because I believe it is the right time, the responsible time, to ensure a successful handoff to the next leader of this great school system. And in the time that remains, I want to accomplish two things above all else.

One: We must re-engage our students who may have lost their way during the pandemic. We must rally together to ensure every student this fall is back in school, on time, every day. As a District, we have begun that good work in tandem with our schools to find those families and communities most in need of our support. You will see throughout the summer multiple strategies to reconnect our students with that intrinsic love for learning that lies in all of us.

Two: We must lay out a clear path forward for the next Superintendent. Our strategic planning for the next four years is well underway, and we are crafting a budget for the 2021-2022 school year that will prioritize our greatest needs. Going forward, our collective work must challenge inequity, poverty, violence, and other systemic ills that have befallen our families and children long before any of the natural or manmade disasters we have endured.

Since 2015, I have embraced you as you have embraced me. And I am confident I will leave our students in the great hands of a diverse and energized School Board and brilliant school leaders, teachers, and support staff. You have my gratitude for your support these last six years and for your dedication to public education in this great City we lovingly call home.

We got through this, together. Thank you.

In Service,

Dr. Henderson Lewis, Jr.
As I have stood in stadiums, gyms, and school buildings these past few weeks, watching the beaming smiles of our NOLA Public Schools seniors make their ever-important graduation marches across the stage – in-person, no less! – I have been filled with enduring gratitude.

Gratitude for each and every one of our students who showed amazing resilience to keep up their studies while this pandemic upended the world around them. Gratitude to our educators, especially our teachers, who so quickly mastered the art of teaching through computer screens and in classrooms at the same time. And gratitude to our school community, which pulled together like never before to confront this pandemic’s rattling impact on all our lives. For the past 14 months, we held COVID-19 at bay among our students and staff, reopened our classrooms when so many school districts couldn’t or wouldn’t, and kept our school buildings among some of the safest spaces to work, teach, learn, and play.

We did all this, together. But we are not done, yet.

Now is the time to begin preparing for the next challenge: Bringing back all our students to their classrooms next fall to learn face-to-face with their teachers and shoulder-to-shoulder with their peers.

It is no secret that student learning suffered this year. Stability is a key to effective teaching and learning, and this pandemic did its worst to disrupt that. It is now our sacred duty as educators, community leaders, and parents to rally around our children, engage them, and get them excited about returning to their schools in a few short months.

School will be back in session, in person, this August. I made that our mission in January. While schools may plan virtual options for safety or health reasons, such as quarantines, we want every NOLA-PS student in class next year to enjoy the benefits in-person learning brings to them, academically, socially, and emotionally.

We know students are safe and strongest when learning in-person, and this summer will be critical to resetting this expectation. Our schools recognize that, and I applaud their creative efforts to boost summer learning opportunities for all students. Summer interventions build strong foundations for the next school year, and it is encouraging to see our school community respond to so many parents as they seek summer enrichment options for their children.

More than 85 percent of our schools have applied for and received grants – totaling more than $1.5 million – to enhance their learning and enrichment programs this summer. We anticipate more than 13,000 students, including 2,000 with exceptionalities and another 1,000 English learners, to benefit from these offerings. In many cases, schools will open their doors to all their students, and they expect to see triple the number who have capitalized on summer learning in past years. Our partners are also stepping up. Organizations, including Community Works, KidSmART and YAYA, have joined our schools to offer enrichment programs. Some schools are seizing the opportunity to expand their programs. Bricolage, for example, has engaged the National Society of Black Engineers to launch a pilot summer program that, if successful, will continue through the school year. The Living School is launching a pilot program aimed specifically at disengage students to reignite their love of learning. Firstline has lined up field trips with several community partners throughout the summer. And Warren Easton plans to elevate its music and marching band programs to revive its school culture.

Our schools are amazing places and again, I am so grateful for their dedication. But they can’t conquer this challenge alone. So I am imploring every New Orleanian – every parent, every mentor, every teacher, every elected official, every pastor, every community organizer – to rally together around our children. Talk to them. Embrace them. Encourage them. Make them see the promising futures that learning will open for them. Show them the light that a quality education from inside a classroom will shine on them.

We can do this, together.

In Service,

Dr. Henderson Lewis, Jr.

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 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.


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