Coffee Break: New Orleans' Ben Kleban on Saying Goodbye to the School Board You Used to Know and Looking to the Future

Oct 12, 2016 12:00:00 AM


Say goodbye to the New Orleans school board you used to know. When Senate Bill 432—which called for a return of certain Recovery School District (RSD) schools from the state to the transferring school board—passed and was signed into law as Act 91 it should have been evident to New Orleanians that despite a gradual return to local control they would not be witnessing the same old school board that they once knew. The school board and its members will have less power than the pre-Katrina school board. The Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) will have no say in charter school curriculum, personnel, yearly calendar or contracts—essentially they will be removed from the operational procedures of charter schools. This new age school board will definitely need a new way of thinking and creative game planning in order to spread its influence, ideas and to ensure that charter schools reach school board benchmarks. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Ben Kleban, CEO of New Orleans College Prep, who recently won a school board seat serving the 5th district (he will be stepping down from his role at New Orleans College Prep). During our conversation, Kleban articulated some creative ideas about how to get New Orleans schools moving forward toward sustained future progress. What determined your decision to run for the school board? I see it as a real opportunity to bring an end to a fragmented system. I wonder, how many more gains can we achieve if we worked together toward a unified goal? Everyone on the same page, unifying the resources and officially dealing with the shortcomings in the system when they exist collectively. I’m thinking more of the future than I am of the past. What are your thoughts on how the school board, along with the unification, will be beneficial to parents and families? The ability to have local democracy where a parent doesn’t have to drive to Baton Rouge to address a group of officials that are out of touch—by no fault of their own—but they don’t live here in New Orleans. Parents should be more engaged to advocate for their children. Local school boards offer a more direct connection and opportunity for development of relationships with parents and students. A relationship that should be healthy for the success of schools. The education of special needs students in our community is so important. What would make this process more efficient? The local school board should be more accountable for the writing, governing and implementation of Individualized Education Plans for special needs students. We need to make sure that each child is receiving adequate services that match their needs and we must be more vigilant in identifying violation issues. We should ensure that federal and state laws are being followed and we must commit ourselves to communicating to and educate parents about the process. You wrote an article  about your re-evaluation of discipline and suspensions. Can you elaborate? I’d like to think that I have become better now than I was 10 years ago. I know a lot more about our kids in our community as well. When I assessed what New Orleans College Prep was doing well, I discovered that suspensions rates wasn’t one of them. We were following a one-size-fits-all process that wasn’t working. When we started looking at individual kids and addressing their issues, we determined that what one child responded to well and what made them successful was totally different from another child. We needed a system that would not just involve suspensions and force but alternative individualized actions. Any last thoughts on the unification?  If the leadership of the system at the board level, the superintendent and the key stakeholders—the voices of input—are all on the same page and working from the same playbook to get to a common goal for our kids then there has got to be more opportunity for progress than what we have had thus far.
An original version of this post appeared on the Second Line Education Blog as Change:The Facelift the Orleans Parish School Board Desperately Needs.

Lamont Douglas

Lamont Douglas is a father, advocate and blogger at Secondline. He resides in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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