This is the story of the destruction of John McDonogh High School in New Orleans. Once a community hub, it was taken over in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Students, alumni, and community members have repeatedly appealed, demonstrated, and gone to the state board to seek the return of the school as a public school. They have been stymied and rebuffed again and again by State Superintendent John White and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. This post is a chronology of events at John McDonogh, from 2005 to the present. Those in the local community who remember what the school was continue to fight for its revival.

At one point, John White promised to consider a plan but then abruptly turned the school over to Steve Barr, who long ago created the Green Dot charter chain and then started a new charter chain called the Future is Now (FIN). Oprah filmed a show about Barr’s new charter school in New Orleans and promised to follow what she was sure would be the miraculous transformation of a “failing school” into a great charter school. Scores plummeted at John McDonogh under FIN, and the charter left town.

Students, parents, and alumni again returned to the state board, pleading for their school to be turned back into a public school. Again, they were rebuffed by a board stacked with charter-friendly, TFA-friendly members. The member who was most consequential in rejecting the community was Kira Orange-Jones, who was elected to the board while she was executive director for TFA in the state. The expansion of charter schools in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and elsewhere depends on the continuing flow of inexperienced TFA corps members who are happy to work 60-70 hours a week and leave after two or three years.

What you will see as you read this account is a remarkable number of overlapping relationships, conflicts of interests, and collusion among “reform” groups to disempower the local community and keep control far away from them.

The post reminds me of Kristen Buras’ study of New Orleans titled “Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance.” Buras documented the fact that New Orleans public schools were underfunded before the hurricane in 2005. Once the district was taken over by the state, money began to flow by the tens–maybe hundreds– of millions from the federal government and philanthropies. The more charters, the more outside money. Charters were never underfunded.

In the latest round over the future of John McDonogh High School, the Recovery School Board decided to turn it into a charter elementary school “focusing on engineering and exploration.” The friends and alumni of John Mac lost again. They plan to appeal the decision. What are their chances? The powerful in Louisiana do not want any public schools in New Orleans.