Officials endorse call for additional school in Lower 9th Ward

A group of Lower 9th Ward residents received some welcome support Saturday in their push for another high-quality public school in their neighborhood, which was served by several schools before the nearby levee breached and submerged the area in 2005.

Since Hurricane Katrina, the badly devastated neighborhood has had only one operating school, Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School. King reopened in 2007 and is a high-achieving, B-rated school that attracts many students from across the city.

As a result, it is difficult for neighborhood children to get into King, which is full and has a waiting list of more than 500 students, said the advocacy group A Community Voice, which has long advocated for more public investment in the Lower 9th Ward.

Meanwhile, Lower 9 schools such as Louis Armstrong Elementary on St. Claude Avenue remain shuttered, forcing many neighborhood students to wait in the dark each morning for school buses to take them to schools across town, Orleans Parish School Board member John Brown Sr. said at a news conference called by A Community Voice.

Brown said he has observed buses picking up students at 5:30 a.m. in eastern New Orleans and moving on to the Lower 9th Ward a half-hour later.

Brown attended the news conference, held in front of Armstrong School, with fellow board member Nolan Marshall Jr. The two brought a letter from parish schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr., who had a previous engagement, Brown said, as he read the letter aloud.

In the letter, Lewis said the board is conducting a demographic study to determine where more schools should be placed.

At that, Vanessa Gueringer, a leader of A Community Voice, shook her head and raised a bullhorn to her mouth. “We will not stand for demographics to be used as a reason for our children not to have neighborhood schools,” she said.

State Sen. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, also said an analysis of demographics isn’t enough of an answer to the calls for another school. “We know right now what that demographic study is going to say: that there are not enough people in the Lower 9th Ward to justify a new school,” he said.

Bishop said King is filled and has a long waiting list due to children who are coming from across the city because their parents want them to attend a high-achieving school.

Former state Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, looked up at the shuttered, crumbling Armstrong building. “Enough talk,” he told the crowd, saying that if King has more than 500 children on its waiting list, that is enough to fill Armstrong.

Badon, like other public officials present — including Brown, Bishop and Sheriff Marlin Gusman — got nostalgic about riding bikes or walking to school each day as children. Each expressed a belief that children do best when they can attend schools near their home instead of spending hours riding on buses to distant schools.

That’s an opinion shared by members of A Community Voice.

When schoolchildren walk or bicycle along neighborhood sidewalks, residents know them and keep their eyes on them, Gueringer said.

“This is about community members being able to look out their doors and windows to make sure our children are safe,” she said.

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