NSNO’s “Just The Facts” series discusses what the superintendent’s role entails in our unique system of schools. This edition of “Just the Facts” covers the district and superintendent’s role in preserving, maintaining, and tending to our school buildings. This is our first “Just the Facts” since the selection of Dr. Avis Williams as the next superintendent of NOLA-PS.
What is the role of New Orleans’ school superintendent?
The superintendent leads NOLA-PS, New Orleans’ public school district. They are hired by OPSB, a publicly-elected, seven-member board that also holds them accountable for their work. The superintendent, in turn, holds NOLA-PS schools and networks to high academic, operational, and financial standards on behalf of our children (as set in LA RS 17:10.7.1, created by Act 91 by the Louisiana Legislature). Their responsibilities include, for example, citywide student enrollment and school facilities. Today, we’ll look closely at school facilities.
The Issue: Facilities
In New Orleans, our district owns school buildings, and, as in most districts nationally, assigns schools to occupy them. They do so through an equitable and transparent process. Schools are responsible for keeping their buildings safe, clean, and up to date according to lease agreements they hold with the district.
Schools do not pay to lease these buildings. Instead, a portion of the tax dollars collected for schools goes to support building-related costs.
The superintendent keeps track of the occupancy and needs of the facilities in our district. They know which buildings are in need of repair, which buildings are being used to capacity, and which buildings might be newly available because they have just been built, or because another school has closed or moved. The superintendent needs to keep tabs on which schools are in good condition, but might require maintenance or repairs a few years down the line. They support schools by managing or paying for certain repairs, particularly emergency or planned capital improvements.
The superintendent continues to be responsible for the completion of the School Facility Master Plan, which was the plan set out after Hurricane Katrina to use nearly $2 billion in federal funding for school rebuilding, recovery, and construction in New Orleans. Over fifteen years later, only a few projects funded with these recovery dollars are still in progress, and the next superintendent, Dr. Avis Williams, will be called upon to see them through to completion.
The superintendent is also responsible for making sure schools keep their facilities up to date and safe for children. Because charter schools have more autonomy than schools in a traditional district, they have control over contracts with partners like food service or maintenance vendors. The NOLA-PS facilities office reviews facilities contracts, however, to make sure they meet state and local requirements and codes for safety and quality.
To ensure schools follow through on their contracts around facilities, the superintendent’s team also conducts annual inspections of all facilities throughout the year, with careful follow up and guidance for any shifts that need to be made.
Siting and Leasing
The local school board owns school buildings, and from time to time, one or more of these buildings will become available for a new or different school to move into them. In many cases, charter organizations can apply to move into those buildings if they better fit the needs of their students. The superintendent may run an open process through which schools can apply to be “sited,” or assigned, to an available facility. Once chosen for a site, schools then lease the building from the district, and accept the responsibilities in that lease related to the maintenance and repair of the facility.
Most recently, three schools were sited to expand or move into new buildings that have become available:
- Morris Jeff Middle School grades 5-8 will move to the Drew Elementary building (3819 St. Claude Ave) in the fall.
- Audubon Elementary grades 3-8 will move into the Live Oak Elementary School building (3821 Constance St) in the fall.
- Educators for Quality Alternatives: New Orleans Accelerated High School will move to the Frances Gaudet Elementary School (12000 Haynes Blvd) campus in the fall.
School Building Names
While charter school organizations have autonomy to name their school program, the school board is responsible for naming or changing the names of school buildings. In 2020, the school board passed a policy to ensure that no new buildings or existing buildings would carry the names of persons who were enslavers, confederate officials, or segregation supporters. Last year, the district and superintendent, with the involvement of many in our community, worked to find new names for the schools in our city that were named for these individuals.
Our Next Superintendent
Our schools have the power and creativity to seek and improve a space that’s right for their students, and the superintendent supports that choice through planning, maintenance oversight, and capital repair. As Dr. Williams takes on this task, she can center the work around certain values and principles.
We are confident that Dr. Williams will prioritize equity in access to buildings and efficiency in how the district manages buildings and maintains funds. She will hold the highest quality standards for how our school buildings are constructed, repaired, and maintained. She will also communicate closely with our schools, families, and community as they do this work.
We believe that with this focus, Dr. Williams will be a powerful steward of our schools. These spaces, of course, are not just buildings. They hold powerful legacies and important memories. They are places where our children feel safe, welcomed, and cared for. Our superintendent ensures those places are safe, clean, welcoming, and up-to-date.