Seven students and professor Stacey Childress worked on a strategic planning project with The Cowen Institute, a newly formed institute at Tulane University that seeks to serve the needs of charter schools in New Orleans. As a result of Hurricane Katrina, over 50% of New Orleans public schools have become charters (publicly funded but independently operated), and this creates an exciting and unique education environment in the city. This environment has attracted bright and committed educationally focused minds to the city. During the trip we had the opportunity to meet with many of these inspirational folks.
The team’s explicit goal was to write a strategic plan for the Institute by assessing the needs of charter schools in the area and determining where Tulane’s capabilities could help fill the gaps. On a higher level, we hoped simply to learn about and to contribute to public education in New Orleans. On all of these fronts we achieved quick and definite success.
We began the week by meeting Dr. Scott Cowen, the President of Tulane, and a Boston Consulting Group team that was helping to facilitate the project. In this initial meeting we learned about the history of the New Orleans education system, the current state of education in the city, and the background and objectives of the Institute.
In the days that followed, we visited 12 schools where we interviewed principals, observed classrooms, talked to students and even got to attend a faculty meeting. Seeing schools in action was a highlight of the trip, especially seeing the schools that are successfully raising student achievement with a very diverse and economically-challenged student base. In addition we were able to spend time with leaders of other education organizations in the city, and we were struck by the passion and dedication that each of these people brought to the table. It was truly inspirational to see the leadership displayed by these folks despite the stress and difficulty of life in post-Katrina New Orleans.
After our week of hard work we had the opportunity to present our findings to Dr. Cowen and Shannon Jones, the Director of the Institute. They were very receptive to our ideas and recommendations, and in the end we were pleasantly surprised at how much ground we had covered in a short period of time.