As the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) continues its search for the next superintendent of NOLA Public Schools (NOLA-PS), NSNO’s “Just The Facts” series will cover what the superintendent’s role entails in our unique system of schools.
Our students, educators, and families deserve the best possible leader for our district, and our entire community can be part of the process of finding them. This series supports the public conversation around who will follow Dr. Henderson Lewis, Jr. when he leaves his role this summer. This edition of “Just the Facts” covers enrollment, as we are approaching the application deadline for NOLA Public Schools.
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 State Legislature). Their responsibilities include, for example, citywide student enrollment and school facilities. Today, we’ll look closely at enrollment.
The Issue: School Enrollment
One unique feature of New Orleans’ school system is that all our schools are public charters, which means students can apply to attend school anywhere in the city, not just in their neighborhood. This means a student’s educational options aren’t limited by where they live.
Because there are so many schools to choose from, it is important that enrollment is centralized, equitable, accessible, and simple. Families should be able to apply to many schools at once, instead of taking valuable time to apply to each one individually. For this reason, NOLA-PS, led by the superintendent, runs the process for student enrollment in all public schools located in New Orleans.
How it works:
Families can learn about public school options on the NOLA-PS website. Many also connect with family, friends, and neighbors to find the school that’s right for their child, or pick one based on their own experience as a student here.
Then, families return to the NOLA-PS website (or go to an in-person family resource center) to list their top schools for their child through the New Orleans Common Application Process (NCAP). They rank their choices.
At the end of the enrollment period, the NCAP uses a lottery to determine a child’s place in a school. There is a slight preference for students that want to attend schools close to home, and those who want to attend school with their siblings. A small number of schools have additional admission requirement (like speaking an additional language). Otherwise, the process is fully based on the number of open seats in a school and the choices listed by a child’s family.
The superintendent’s role here is simply through their leadership of the district at large. They have no influence as to which students attend which school. Instead, they lead the team that manages the enrollment process (who also cannot individually influence a student’s placement decision). They are ultimately responsible for it running smoothly, equitably, and effectively each year.
The superintendent is an ambassador for NOLA-PS, and engages with local officials and media to spread the word about the enrollment process and deadlines. (This year, applications are due January 21st.) They also are called to make important policy decisions around enrollment. Dr. Lewis, for instance, has made the choice to prioritize the choices of students whose schools are closing in the year ahead, and also offer additional support to their families in the enrollment process. The next superintendent will be called upon to make decisions like these, in the name of equity, as they arise.
Transfers and Expulsions
The superintendent also manages the teams that help students transfer between schools, programs, or into the district. If a student needs to enroll in a school mid-year because they moved from another state, NOLA-PS helps them with that process. Sometimes, a student or their family may also request a new school placement due to a mitigating circumstance – such as moving to a new part of the city that makes transportation difficult, or experiencing bullying. NOLA-PS works with them for this process as well.
Importantly, the NOLA-PS team, led by the superintendent, also manages expulsion. Centralizing this process allows all students to be held to a common disciplinary process in the rare occurrence that they are recommended for expulsion. We believe this centralized process is part of why New Orleans has a lower expulsion rate (0.1%) than the state at large and Jefferson, Caddo, or East Baton Rouge Parish (all 0.7%). The hearing office, located within NOLA-PS, provides an impartial team for review. And if a student is expelled, the superintendent and their team are responsible for finding the student options for their next steps. This might mean another NOLA-PS school that might be a better fit, or one of the alternative programs, such as The Bridge Middle School for middle school students or the NET Charter High School or New Orleans Accelerated High School for older students.
Our system of schools is set up to allow educators to use their creativity, ingenuity, and knowledge of their own students to build the best possible learning environment. The superintendent ensures the process to enroll in those learning environments is equitable and accessible. What does this mean for the next superintendent? As OPSB searches for the next superintendent and seeks input from our community, the ability to lead teams and communicate with the public will be important, as will the ability to maintain a focus on equity and ease for our families.